Bush tucker on the menu at Kingfisher Bay Resort
BUNYA nut and macadamia pesto sauce with crocodile tail. Native rosella glaze paired with red emu meat. Bush tomato and kangaroo tenderloin steak.
The dishes are enough to make any foodie worth their salt salivate at the combination of flavours and pique their curiosity about the origins.
Few would expect to find them outside Central Australia, the Northern Territory or even Far North Queensland.
But Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island can stake its claim as the nation's bush tucker capital for not only spicing things up on the menu selection but also better educating visitors on making the most of using "the flavours of Australia" at home.
At the heart of the cuisine are tens of thousands of years of valuable indigenous knowledge, wisdom and experience gleaned from the Butchulla Tribe, which first came to K'gari or "Paradise", as they called it, to catch fish in the winter tailor season, as well as mainland groups.
The resort's signature Seabelle Restaurant delights in offering bush tucker-infused modern Australian cuisine, blending native ingredients with seasonal, local produce and fresh seafood.
Guests can savour the flavours on the restaurant menu (rose-infused watermelon, salt and pepper calamari and Northern Territory crocodile salad with seasoned feta and pepperberry aioli, anyone?) and even indulge in cocktails with added zing (perhaps a Lemon Myrtle Caprioska: vodka, lemon myrtle leaf, lime, lemonade and soda water).
But the award-winning culinary staff's curated five-course degustation menu, named by Queensland Uncovered as one of the Top 7 fine dining experiences in 2019, is where it excels in bringing bush tucker to the fore.
It includes: lemon myrtle and aniseed- pickled crocodile, grilled oyster mushroom, fish sauce, lime and pepper berry aioli; thyme-rubbed duck breast with kipfler potatoes in a melange of wild lime, lilly pilly salsa, coriander, wattle seed, tamarind and native honey glaze; medium-rare seared kangaroo loin, on a bed of roasted sweet potato, asparagus, apple mustard cream and rosella-raspberry caramalised onions; paperbark-wrapped barramundi with macadamia nuts and lemon myrtle, served with a crisp side salad, tomato, lemon aspen, wild lime and munthari berry salsa; and Queensland mango and coconut panna cotta with lychees and petite salad of Maryborough gold pineapple.
The five senses are tantalised further at the Bush Tucker Talk and Taste.
Laid before each guest is a "clock-face platter" of bright colours and varying textures with dipping sauces and leaves in the middle.
We first scrunch up a lemon myrtle leaf, which ranger Cassie Duncan says is good for sore throats with its anti-bacterial properties and lemony smell or can be used as an insect repellent with its 3 per cent citronella component.
Chef Mark Samson adds that the leaf can be dehydrated and crushed with a mortar and pestle to create lemon myrtle-infused oil.
A smaller leaf of the cinnamon myrtle can be used like lemongrass for flavouring, put into tea to settle stomachs, rubbed on sore joints to numb pain or chewed as a natural anaesthetic for toothache.
The Bauple nut, more widely known as the Queensland nut and macadamia, is already popularly used in ice cream and cakes but Mark also uses it for crumbing meats. Its shell was used to make jewellery and its oil to preserve body paint.
The bunya nut is a long, white, moist nut found inside a much larger oval kernel. Mark says its texture and flavour are very different to macadamias and it is used in the kitchen to create creamier sauces without affecting delicate flavours.
A bunya nut and macadamia pesto is a scrumptious addition to the succulent barbecued croc tails he serves up.
Mark admits that crocs, like humans, are what they eat and as the 13 croc farms in Australia serve them chicken carcasses, the crocs do taste like chicken.
Next up, the pepperberry - that looks like a tiny blueberry but with more antioxidants - starts off sweet on the palate but ends with a distinctly hot kick. Mark dehydrates the berry and uses it as a peppercorn substitute, mixed with salt for a seasoning. But beware: one teaspoon of the dehydrated pepperberry in a large takeaway food container of salt adds plenty of "lift".
Cassie calls the lemon aspen "nature's Powerade".
Its bitter taste makes it more flavoursome than regular lemon juice on fish, for example, and was carried in dilly bags by the Aborigines because it was good for salivation and was much lighter than water.
Mark likes to add the lemon aspen to sweet pickle to balance the flavour.
Finger limes' "pink pearl" seeds are like a citrus caviar and ideal with fresh seafood.
The desert or bush lime, however, looks like a small sweet grape but is bitter to taste and much better when made into marmalade.
Bush tomatoes are toxic if eaten straight off the tree but the Butchulla people watched how mammals waited for the fruit to fall and shrivel into raisins before eating them.
With the red quandong, Aborigines would strip the flesh from the large seed using a bone or large rock to savour the sour, fruity, salty taste that Mark says goes well with goose, duck, kangaroo and emu and can be thrown in raw in a salad.
Native rosellas are like native hibiscus flowers - very sweet but great for making into a glaze to pair with barbecued emu breast, as we discover.
The small pink creek lilly pilly is often made into jam, a sauce for fish dishes, or added to salads. But a discerning wine connoisseur can pick up a bottle of creek lilly pilly wine for about $1500.
The seasonal munthary berry also can be used in salads or desserts.
And wattleseed can be made into a powder and toasted for a coffee/ mocha or even burnt toast smell and taste, which can be mixed into bread, pasta and tiramisu (Seabelle Restaurant also makes it into ice cream).
On the resort's Bush Tucker Walk, ranger Tess Schreck is a wealth of knowledge of Aboriginal ingenuity in food, medicine and bush "technology".
We learn such tidbits as: the piccabeen or bangalow palm fruit can be eaten raw once it turns red/orange and that the sweet and herbal-tasting white berries of the midyim bush are a snack that can be picked and eaten straight off the bush.
The bush tucker education we receive on Fraser island shows the Aborigines certainly knew a thing or two about sustainability, self-sufficiency and understanding how to make use of what they had growing in their own backyard.
But above all, they undeniably were Australia's first "masterchefs".
*The writer was a guest of the Kingfisher Bay Resort Group.
For more information, go to kingfisherbay.com.