With a backdrop of Uluru and the Olgas, the Ayers Rock Resort hotels are arguably the best place in the country to enjoy the native herbs, spices, fruits, seeds, insects and wildlife that have sustained indigenous Australians for tens of thousands of years. The resort recently launched a new Bush Tucker Journeys program to introduce guests to these ancient flavours.
Indigenous celebrity chef and Bush Tucker Journeys’ ambassador Mark Olive (also known as ‘the Black Olive’) is with us for the opening weekend of the program. He has put together a dynamic menu and demonstrates how to incorporate traditional ingredients into everyday cooking. Mark’s culinary ease is impressive, and it’s mesmerising to watch as he whips up tasty chocolate desserts using Davidson plum, lemon myrtle and quandong.
An array of indigenous ingredients
Many of these native delicacies, often unknown to non-indigenous people, have remarkable nutritional benefits. We learn about the very high iron content of kangaroo, the citrus-flavoured green ants that are traditionally used to treat coughs and colds, and quandongs, which are high in antioxidants and have twice the vitamin C of an orange. I walked away feeling inspired and wanting to broaden my palate while embracing the health-giving benefits of these local gems. Fortunately, Mark is the author of an easy-to-follow cookbook that also gives sources for the bush ingredients.
Later, we join Mark for a culinary masterclass followed by an alfresco three-course dinner. As the sun goes down we start our journey with a lemon myrtle cocktail and native plum martini while Mark explains his menu of smoked-wallaby canapés, emu prosciutto, and Cone Bay barramundi with a creamy cauliflower and bunya nut puree. In between courses we listen to stories about the night sky, and view the full moon and Jupiter through two large telescopes. The highlight is the luscious dessert: a desert lime gateau with green ant and coconut snow, poached quandong, compressed pineapple and whipped yoghurt panna cotta.
Mark is passionate about the unique appeal of Australia’s native ingredients and urges us all to embrace them, for both their delicious flavours and healing properties. Another of the activities on offer through the Bush Tucker Journeys program is a free daily cooking demonstration held in the resort’s square. One afternoon we learn how to make wattleseed shortbread. Not only is it delicious, with a slight roasted coffee flavour, but wattleseed is also high in protein, fibre, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc. These are minerals my more traditional shortbread recipe is certainly lacking. You can also join an indigenous guide for a walk through the resort’s gardens, identifying native plants used for food and medicine. And each of the 10 restaurants at the resort has new menus that celebrate seasonal native ingredients.
You can’t visit Uluru without experiencing one of the signature Under the Night Sky dinners. We savoured dukkha-seared kangaroo loin over quandong cous cous while looking across Bruce Munro’s exquisite installation at A Night at Field of Light (closing March 31, 2018) and tasted smoked crocodile on damper with desert lime at the Sounds of Silence.
For something extra special, Tali Wiru is a magical evening of fine dining, limited to just 20 people and set on a remote sand dune overlooking Uluru. Our evening starts with canapés and champagne at sunset accompanied by the haunting sound of a didgeridoo. The four-course menu with matching wines changes seasonally and there’s always a strong emphasis on indigenous flavours. We feast on pressed wallaby and fermented quandong, beetroot and Illawarra plum mousse with finger lime caviar, and winter cauliflower with bush tomato-cured egg yolk. A traditional storyteller shares tales of indigenous culture under the glittering outback sky and we finish the evening with port and native wattleseed-infused hot chocolate around the campfire.
For those wishing to arrive in style, there is an option to add a pre-dinner helicopter ride for a bird’s eye view of the immense Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
The Bush Tucker Journey
The Bush Tucker Journeys program is currently available at all properties within the Ayers Rock Resorts. Most activities are free. Chef Mark Olive will be back at the resort for the quarterly Uluru Feastivals, to be held 18-20 August and 3-5 November 2017, and 9-11 March and 22-24 June 2018.