Zach Green firmly believes food is the path to reconciliation in Australia. When this young chef cooks with indigenous ingredients, he tells the stories of the animals and plants he’s using, explaining their significance as totems and the deep connection between food, kinship and culture.
Zach has forged a reputation for his daring pop-up restaurants at food festivals and cross-cultural events around Australia. Spontaneity is key: menus are planned with minimal notice, based on ingredients hunted, harvested and foraged in the locality. Zach stresses the story of its ingredients, the dances for each animal and its painted symbols, combining in a uniquely immersive experience.
“If we share those stories, we could change people’s perceptions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures through food,” Zach says. “That could be the way forward for reconciliation.”
It’s knowledge Zach acquired late in life. At 12, he discovered a family secret: his paternal grandmother was Aboriginal, part of the Stolen Generation. He took pride in the revelation, telling his new high school friends he was a Gunditjmara and Palawa man. The racial abused he received in response silenced him for the next five years.
The troubled youth stumbled into the world of cooking at 17, as a kitchen hand at a ski fields bistro in Mount Buller, Victoria. Discovering a new sense of purpose, Zach began a chef’s apprenticeship under his first mentor, Megan Knapp. Years of Melbourne restaurant and catering roles followed.
Zach’s lightbulb moment came when he moved to the Northern Territory with his then-partner, Yolngu woman and Marngrook Footy Show panel member Leila Gurruwiwi. Embraced by her extended family, Zach studied the complexities of their traditions. Food was their common language.
When the pair lost two sons to miscarriage, cooking became an outlet for Zach’s grief and a positive way to remember them. In 2015 he and Leila started Elijah’s Kitchen, a project focusing on bush foods named in honour of one of their sons, which Zach now continues to run as restaurateur and chef.
In addition to his hectic pop-up schedule, Zach works as an educator, teaching Indigenous communities how to prepare healthy meals combining traditional and modern ingredients.
Elijah’s Kitchen is now housed in a purpose-built commercial kitchen on wheels funded by Indigenous Business Australia. It operates as a full-service outdoor restaurant in picturesque sites around Darwin through the Dry Season. A bricks-and-mortar restaurant in Darwin is Zach’s goal.