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Our own Jamie Oliver: 

Jacqui Taffel
23 May 2006
The Sydney Morning Herald

A new initiative aims to feed minds and break down barriers, writes Jacqui Taffel.
It's all very well to whip up a meal with an oven, but cooking on an open fire?

"That's an art," says Beryl Van-Oploo. It's a skill she picked up as a child growing up in Walgett, in north-west NSW. "That was the only way to do it out in the bush - you learnt those skills from your oldies and they stay with you for the rest of your life."
Now she is hoping to pass on her knowledge to Aboriginal people who have never lived in the bush or eaten bush tucker. "Our own mob, they won't try kangaroo or emu," she says, "because they didn't grow up with it."
Supported by the Redfern-Waterloo Authority, Van-Oploo is due to open a hospitality training school called Yaama Dinhawan at the North Eveleigh Training Centre in August. In the language of her people, the Yuwaalaraay, yaama means welcome and dinhawan means emu, the emblem of the new school.
Joining Van-Oploo are Jennice and Raymond Kersh whose restaurant Edna's Table, which closed last May, brought indigenous ingredients to fine dining for more than 20 years.
Raymond will teach in the kitchen while Jennice concentrates on front-of-house training. Van-Oploo covers culture. "Our goal is the same: to pass on our expertise," she says. The facilities will include an outdoor cooking area with an open fire so she can show how to prepare roo, damper and stews without a
timer and temperature-control knob.
Van-Oploo also has plenty of indoor experience. She was already cooking for a living when she did a TAFE nutrition course and ended up teaching there for 15 years. She was also the chef at Lilli Pilli in The Rocks, which specialised in Australian native cuisine. Five years ago she retired but a few months later was back in the kitchen, this time working from a caravan at Marrickville training mainly young Aboriginal women. Part of the aim was to boost their self-confidence to enter the workforce.
For the past 15 months, Van-Oploo has taken on more work, at the Redfern Community Centre, where she is universally known as Aunty Beryl. She recently helped out at the centre's second birthday celebrations, catering for  more than 200, and she's there on Tuesdays and Thursdays, teaching anyone who is interested, from kids to elders, in the onsite kitchen preparing lunches for the local community.
"I'm very big on nutrition," she says. "We spoil them every so often,  give them apple pie with custard, or pavlova. But it's mostly low-fat, very healthy: silverside with potatoes - what we call an 'Aussie' meal - or it might be a vegetarian dish."
She is about to accompany a group of Aboriginal teenagers to a youth expo in Maroochydore, where as well as presenting a program of song, video and dance, they will prepare the recipes she has taught them, including wattleseed  muffins and barramundi with lemon-myrtle butter sauce.
At home, she cooks simple things - grills, salads, pasta, fresh vegies. "My husband and I are looking after ourselves," she says. "Aboriginal women have a life expectancy of 50-odd years. I'm past that now and I thank my lucky stars every day."
As well as skills, she'd like to pass on her passion for the job and an understanding of what it can achieve. "Everybody eats food and the way  to break down barriers is having a meal."


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