What do you get if you take a pinch of Indigenous cultural heritage, mix it with eager students, a dash of education and a combine it with passionate teachers?
The answer is an innovative catering program.
Platters on Willow is connecting students from Redbank Plains State High School with real life skills and Australian ingredients.
The Aboriginal-inspired cooking program also allows senior students to complete a Certificate in Hospitality.
“What the students do is more than just cooking and serving customers,” teacher Kara Pulou said.
“For us it goes a lot deeper.
“It gives these students, particularly the ones who are not high academic achievers, the opportunity to gain some confidence and pride and important life skills along the way.
“They work hard on this and then get the instant feedback from the guests.”
Platters on Willow is the brainchild of teacher Kara Pulou who was asked by the school’s Indigenous Liaison, Jenny Cartmill, to make an afternoon tea for some visiting Elders in 2008.
Ms Cartmill suggested damper, but Mrs Pulou thought she would like to come up with something better.
What she discovered when she looked up native Australian food on the internet, was the huge variety of ingredients available.
After some experimentation, what the students created that day was made with fruits and spices Mrs Pulou had never used or tasted before.
“That day, the afternoon tea actually bought one of the Elders to tears,” she said.
“He told me he hadn’t tasted some of those flavours since his childhood. The Elders said it reminded them of running around the bush picking and eating.
“Since then, through word of mouth, we started getting phone calls to request us catering more events.”
Tyrone Baker is one of 250 students from the school who work for Platters on Willow.
He also helped create the schools bush tucker garden that the group uses for fresh ingredients in their cooking.
“I get to meet Elders and serve them traditions foods such as crocodile and kangaroo,” Tyrone said.
“We get a lot of ingredients from our bush tucker garden at school.
“It helps me to connect to my culture more than what I do at home.”
Students of all backgrounds participate in the program finding value in the practical hands on experience.
Not only are they learning how to cook and serve they are gaining first-hand experience in what is involved in working in the hospitality industry.
“It also develops their confidence and positions them to have a better chance at employment when they finish their schooling,” Mrs Pulou said.
“They know how to work hard. They are often on their feet from before the sun rises until well after it sets when we do a function.”
Year 12 student Dante Faasisila said the program allowed him to discover his passion.
“From having this opportunity I have realised that I want to become a chef and I may not have discovered that if it wasn’t for this course,” he said.
For year 12 student Afano Uesiliana, it is the interaction with the public she enjoys.
“I love talking to everyone and I like cooking this food, kangaroo and crocodile, it’s different to what I cook at home,” she said.
Totum poles in the bush tucker garden
Redbank Plains State High School bush tucker garden
Mrs Pulou said they are a multicultural group who have the opportunity to be exposed to the Indigenous community.
“I am not Indigenous and have to explain to people that I am just a cook that loves the ingredients,” she said.
“I did seek permission from Elders to prepare and serve the Indigenous inspired food, as I did not want to offend anyone.
“I utilise Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students to work in Platters on Willow and also support grass root Indigenous business by buying the ingredients from suppliers that comes directly from various communities.
“The students are also learning a lot of cultural knowledge about our local area, what grows in our bush tucker garden and meeting with Indigenous people at our events.”
Platters on Willow is run as a self-sufficient business that covers the cost of transport to functions, ingredients and equipment but Mrs Pulou is eager for the program to expand.
“I really need a 12-seater van with a purpose-built trailer to allow more students to accompany me to events,” she said.
“In the next five years I aim to have a fully industrial kitchen with more portable equipment.
“We are also keen to try and find a female Elder who can become involved, as our school is located within sacred women’s area.”
Mrs Pulou is equally passionate about cooking and making a difference in her students’ lives.
“A lot of the students are shy at first but give them time and encouragement and they usually rise to the challenge and gain confidence,” she said.
“I just want to encourage the kids to have a go and seeing the smile on their face at the end of event, well that makes it all worthwhile.”
Kara Pulou top tips for cooking Kangaroo
With less than 2% fat, kangaroo is one of the leanest meat choices you can make.
I suggest substituting beef for kangaroo when you are next cooking a stir fry or steak.
The simplest thing is to marinade the kangaroo meat in something as simple as olive oil, native salt bush and pepper berries (or ordinary salt and pepper).
Put all the ingredients into a casserole dish and rub the oil, salt and pepper into the meat then glad wrap it and place it in the fridge.
This can be done overnight or for at least one hour.
When it’s ready to cook, it has to be hot and fast.
If you have a barbecue at home or gas top plate with a grill plate, get that smoking hot and just put it on to seal it up.
Take it off once each side is sealed then put on a tray covered in alfoil into the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes in the oven.
Aiming for medium to medium-rare, let the cooked kangaroo rest for as much time as you had it in the oven.
Thinly slice the steaks, it’s melt in your mouth and absolutely divide marinating.
Top tip: Don’t overcook it.