Travelling to the NT? Why not see how native cuisine is prepared by a master? Quentin Long meets Mark Olive.

Mark Olive, aka the Black Olive, is a fierce advocate of Australian cuisine.

Yes Australian cuisine, not fusion-Asian-modern-Australian, but the truly unique food comprised of the flavours from our equally unique flora and fauna.

“We have a cuisine in this country and we just don’t utilise it. We have embraced every other food in the world but our own, the one we have right here,” he says as he explains the various herbs spices, ants and other produce spread out on a table in a conference hall at Voyages Ayers Rock Resort. “We are lucky in this country. We have these flavours that you just don’t get anywhere else in the world.”

He is here for the launch of the Uluru Feastival – a quarterly foodie event that celebrates the native foods of Australia.

It is part of the ongoing renaissance of the Rock and forms the signature event of the Bush Tucker Journeys program.

For 30 years Mark has passionately tried to change the perception of our Indigenous produce and ingredients by educating kids, for instance.

And he has some startling examples of our remarkable apathy towards native ingredients. “We ship two tonnes of kangaroo to Europe every month yet we can’t sell that amount here in Australia.”

The barriers to this Indigenous food being used in more kitchens are more mental than anything else.

“You don’t walk into a butcher’s shop and ask for a kilo of cow or sheep, we disassociate the food from the animal. The problem is how we look at it; yes Skippy is cute but tastes so good. What’s wrong with that?”

For Mark, the first steps are simple ones: stocking the pantry.

“We all have Chinese five spice in the cupboard, and a curry. Why not add some lemon myrtle? Sprinkle some lemon myrtle on watermelon or pineapple and the kids will love it. Add some wattleseed for that smoky coffee flavour to stews, biscuits – it’s great in Anzac biscuits particularly.”

But if you are unfamiliar with the ingredients, how do you make sure you are finding good produce?

“Be careful, look for what is being added. If there are things like pepper, salt, almond meal, it’s probably not the authentic thing. I source everything I can from Outback Pride who I know stock the quality produce and ingredients.”

Uluru Feastival is a two-day celebration of native ingredients, including a foraging walk, a masterclass with Mark and dinner under the stars. Packages are available, including three nights’ accommodation. Visit Uluru Feastival for event dates and bookings. 

Other places to eat at Uluru

Coffee mightn’t be Melbourne-standard (or let’s be honest, not even close), but Ayers Rock Resort does put on a good spread (ayersrockresort.com.au/dining). We liked the following:

  • Café-restaurant Geckos, where lunch consisted of fresh salads, gourmet pizza and fresh king prawns – a logistical feat considering the café is 500 kilometres from anywhere.
  • Pioneer BBQ and Bar, at the Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge. It’s as gritty and ‘country’ as it sounds – and great for just that reason. Come here for a beer, a chat and a cheap pub meal.
  • Arnguli Grill at Desert Gardens. This is our overall pick for food – a lovely, contemporary menu using modern ingredients and unpretentious recipes.

It was undergoing refurbishment during our visit, but Ilkari Restaurant at Sails in the desert comes highly recommended by other travellers.

Finally, Tali Wiru is an absolute must-do – expensive at $360 a head, to be sure, but worth it. If it’s booked out – and be warned, it does – long-time favourite Sounds of Silence offers a similar option.

Enjoy this article?

You can find it in Issue 76 along with
loads of other great stories and tips.

BUY THIS ISSUE