Sydney hosts its first MAD Mondays talk

A spin-off of René Redzepi’s MAD Symposium, the events invite the public to join the discussion about some of the most important questions in food right now, starting with Australia’s Indigenous food systems.
MAD Mondays talk, Sydney 2018

MAD Mondays in Sydney, 2018 (Photo: Penny Lane)

Penny Lane

MAD Symposium – the food forum created by Noma chef René Redzepi in 2011 – brought its spin-off conversation series, MAD Mondays, to Sydney this month for the first time, attracting 160-odd chefs, journalists, Aboriginal elders, producers and others working in food. The topic? Indigenous cuisine and Australia’s relationship to it.

“MAD has continuously prompted me to ask many important questions of myself as a chef and restaurateur,” Kylie Kwong, a key organiser of the event, says. “On Monday, we did our best to create the space for reflection, curiosity and shared learning that many associate with MAD.”

MAD (Danish for “food”) was established by Redzepi as an organisation to spearhead the efforts of chefs who want to create change on the most important issues in food, including sustainability, nutrition, ethics and more. While Sydney hosted its own MAD Symposium during the Noma residency in Sydney in 2016, MAD Mondays is part of a new focus on spreading the organisation’s efforts by collaborating with local communities and opening the discussion to the public.

Last week’s event at Carriageworks saw five speakers take the floor and share their own experiences of indigenous food and culture.

Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison, the custodian of several fish traps in New South Wales’ Mystery Bay, opened the night with a focus on the sacredness of food and nature, explaining that long-established rituals in Aboriginal culture govern how and when food is eaten, contributing to a more sustainable food system overall. The fish traps, for example, are an arrangement of rocks at Mystery Bay that collect water at high tide to capture fish.

Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison.

Land and nature’s cycles are the foundation of Palisa Anderson’s work at Boon Luck Farm in the Byron Bay hinterland, where she and her family grow vegetables less commonly seen on menus and supermarket shelves with a focus on biodiversity. Much of Boon Luck’s produce supplies the Chat Thai restaurants started by Anderson’s mother, Amy Chanta, but the thriving farm also grows a selection of native Australian plants, with surprising discoveries about the shared flavour profiles between Thai and indigenous Australian ingredients, such as holy basil and native basil.

Anderson recounted her family’s story of separation and displacement and the way food was used to keep their culture alive, even far from home. It prompted questions about why Australian restaurant diners are more open to the cuisines of other cultures than to our indigenous food traditions.

Recognition and acceptance are possible, according to Gayle Quarmby of Outback Pride Fresh, who pointed to the change in status of Aboriginal art in her lifetime. The path that was forged by chefs and restaurateurs such as Raymond and Janice Kersh of Edna’s Table and Riberries’ Jean Paul Bruneteau, who helped get kangaroo, macadamia and yabbies on to fine-dining menus in the 1980s and 90s. Authors such as Bruce Pascoe are also playing a critical role in busting myths about a primitive indigenous culture in Australia prior to white settlement. These were all noted as achievements to be built on, along with the work of organisations such as Outback Pride Fresh, which partner with Aboriginal communities to create sustainable business ventures, taking the next steps towards Australia’s reckoning with what grows in its own backyard. Several of the speakers and MC Caroline Baum referred to Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison’s phrase “nature’s supermarket”, which he uses to remind people of the bounty indigenous food systems have to offer.

Gayle Quarmby and Palisa Anderson.

Earlier in the evening, Harrison had reflected on his own impatience with learning about the rituals of hunting and harvest as a young teenager. Intentionally or otherwise, these words could be read as a profound reminder of the immaturity of attitudes outside the Aboriginal world when it comes to working with, rather than against, the Australian environment.

The next MAD Mondays event will take place on 16 July 2018. A video of the first MAD Mondays event in Sydney will be available on soon.

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