RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Hidden Kitchens, this morning, takes us cooking with an aboriginal elder. In Sydney, Australia, Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo runs a cooking school for indigenous young people. Aunty Beryl trains her students for jobs, and she's also teaching them to cook with traditional aboriginal foods from their lands known as bush tucker. That's helping reconnect many young people to their indigenous culture, one nearly destroyed when parents and grandparents were forced off their land into missionary schools. The kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelso and Nikki Silva, bring us this portrait of Aunty Beryl and the Yaama Dhiyaan cooking and hospitality school.
AUNTY BERYL VAN-OPLOO: Hello everybody. At the end of the room, we have our kitchen - cappucino machine here. Students practice on the machine. They learn to make cappuccinos and lattes, piccolos, short black, and long black. A lot of aboriginal people wouldn't go near a cappuccino machine. Actually, we don't drink it. We were never brought up with coffee - it's only just recently. We were tea drinkers. I'm Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo. Our hospitality school is Yaama Dhiyaan. So yaama means hello and Dhiyaan means family in my own with. So it means hello family, when you come here.
JAMES WILDON: I've been cooking all my life. I'm from the bush. I've cooked a lot of kangaroo, (unitelligible) . My name's James Wildon (PH). I'm 20 years old. The place we're at now is Yaama Dhiyaan, and we're doing a hospitality course. We cook healthy food. We serve. We clean. We learn. I am from a big family. I've got 15 brothers and eight sisters. When I was younger, I made some bad decisions. I've been held in custody. I'm in jail at the moment. I get out in six weeks. That's why I come to this course - to make my life better.
MOLLY MERIBITO: Most of the people in our class are aboriginal - boys and girls, mothers, fathers, cousins. My name is Molly Meribito (PH). I'm 20. My family are Bundalong from the border of Queensland and New South Wales. I got, like, pregnant young. I was, like, 16. He'll be 3 in December. My grandmother is friends with Aunty Beryl. They go way back. So they were like, you have not much to do, so you should go and learn with her.
VAN-OPLOO: We normally take about 20, but we're lucky if we get 12 to stay. We allow for dropouts. Sometimes, they can't cope. When you're ready, you come back. And we've had that happen to one of our young lads. He went away for a year and then he came back and he said, Aunty Beryl, I'm ready to be a chef.
DANNY HALL: You know, traditionally, the people who we train would be classified as unemployable. That's what the society has labeled them as.
I'm Danny Hall, and I managed the Aboriginal employment program. So many young people don't even have a home to live in. One student, who we actually got employment, was living in a tree. He had nowhere to live, and the tree was safe 'cause it was up, off the ground.
KYLIE KWONG: OK, everybody, this is our celebrity guest today - Polly .
KWONG: Thank you. Today, we are going to cook a simple Chinese stir-fry. So let's start chopping stuff up.
My name is Kylie Kwong and my restaurant Billy Kwong is in Sydney, Australia. I came across Aunty Beryl's school at every farmers market. She's an aboriginal elder. She sells Australian bush tucker produce, jams and marmalade. She's got beautiful big hands and long fingers. She's really elegant. She's just got this lovely warmth and wisdom.
VAN-OPLOO: Bush tucker is what we got off the land. It's a native food. We're introducing it again. You have your fruits, your nuts, your yams, lemon myrtle, barramundi - a fish - real bushy, sort of woody flavor to it - Gum leaves - throw it on an open fire. Then it'll cook in it's own oils - kangaroo stir fly - kangaroo (unintelligible) you can stuff it with mushrooms. We also have (untillegible) prosciutto. So we're getting really clever. But my totem is an emu, so we don't eat it. It's an animal that we worship.
WILDON: Kangaroo - Dolphins - whatever totem your aboriginal tribe has you can't kill, touch or eat . I'm an emu .If I killed an emu, that's like killing my brother, my sister, my mother. You can't eat your totem. My totem is a turtle.
RICARDO GOLDING: You can't eat your totem. My totem is a turtle. My name is Ricardo Golding (PH). By tribe name is (unitelligible). We're doing a course here - a hospitality course. I'm 17. I just recently finished year-12 at school. And I had nothing to do. They just told me about Yaama Dhiyaan. I'm not that smart, but I'm doing my work. Is used to get picked on a lot at school. - the sound of my voice, the way I act. I was very afraid to go into class. I missed out on a lot of lessons. Here, the cooking part I really like the most.
VAN-OPLOO: The biggest thing our students or anybody has to deal with is the self-confidence and that they can do it. When I was growing up, it was limited. I grew up on a reservation. My mom died when I was 14-years-of-age. My aunt had seven of her own children - didn't want to separate us. So there were 17 of us. We were just all in a shack - four in the bedroom. But I always said that I would learn to read and write because my elders said that I needed to do that. And I did. I came to Sydney when I was 16 and got a job as a nanny. I finally got an education at 31-years-of-age.
From the day the first ships arrived, the foreigners brought with them enormous challenges to the country. People lived in tolerance of each other until people's resources were threatened. The aboriginal people's resources were threatened because their natural hunting grounds were taken over by farmers - who - their resource were then threatened when aboriginal people came to get some of the harvest or to kill a beast. You just had a cultural clash. But like all humans, everybody was just trying to eat.
WILDON: I love cooking. I love the smell. When I get out - stay out of trouble. I want to be a chef.
VAN-OPLOO: We are looking at James going up into the Northern Territory, becoming an apprentice chef up there. We know James will be a success because his heart's in it. At the end of the day, it's James's journey now, once he leaves here. But we're only a phone call away 'cause that's what Yaama's all about. We're always going to be there as part of his journey.
MONTAGNE: Hidden Kitchen, Australia was produced by the Kitchen Sisters and mixed by Jim McKee.
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
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