Native Foodways’ Corey Grech: The place where pass...

Native Foodways’ Corey Grech: The place where passion and knowledge meet

Corey Grech from Native Foodways

For Corey Grech, the food industry is where his passion lies. These days the Native Foodways director of foods is channelling this passion into producing high quality foods utilising native foods grown and sourced from First Nations businesses, served with a side of education. Baking Business caught up with Corey to talk about his career so far, and the opening of the first Native Foodways bakery in Sydney last year.

Over the years Gamilaraay, Wonnarua, and Wayan man Corey Grech has done quite a few things. However, one thing has remained constant – his love for, and passion about, native foods.

A light vehicle mechanic by trade, it was Corey’s sister, Suzanne, who first introduced him to the idea of entering the hospitality industry.

A near-death workplace accident that saw Corey nearly fall from a great height while working on high-rise scaffolding changed the course of his life. It was following this event Suzanne told him he couldn’t go back to that job, and showed Corey a book full of imagery and concepts she had for a café she wanted to open in Redfern.

“She said she’d been wanting to open a Black Fella café, and showed me this book full of cut-outs and pictures of what we were going to do and I said, ‘all right, sweet. I suppose I’ll do it’,” Corey said.

Despite having no formal training in the industry, Corey immediately felt at home working with food. It’s something he attributes back to his experience as a mechanic.

“I understood physics a bit, and I could understand how to cook something on more of a physics level,” he said.

“I knew that if you put this much heat into that much steak, then it’s going to behave in a certain way.”

The café, Purple Goanna, soon became a Redfern institution, famous for its kangaroo burgers and crocodile risotto.

Lemon Myrtle and Chicken Pie from Native Foodways

Lemon Myrtle and Chicken Pie from Native Foodways.

Sharing skill and knowledge

Kool Purple Kookas, which offered cooking lessons to kids in remote communities, followed in 2011. Through the program Corey taught the children how to cook using bush foods – and how it important it was to eat them.

Then in 2016, when Corey was working in community development, he began experimenting making kangaroo-worcestershire and crocodile-lime-and-chilli sausages.

He’d sell them on the weekend at festivals and markets, and before long his endeavour Meat Brothers was created.

“This was a different version of Purple Goanna, and was where I perfected the recipes and baking for all the native pies we do now [at Native Foodways],” Corey said.

“One of the other side things I did at the same time was I made a lemon myrtle ginger beer. Then COVID gave Meat Brothers the biggest kick in the butt, so I sat Meat Brothers aside a little bit and I developed another business that I own called Native Botanical Brewery.”

With so much time in the food industry already under his belt, and an extensive knowledge of the bush food industry, Corey said it just made sense for him to join Native Foodways in 2022 as an owner-director. It was a move he describes as being an accumulation of all those learning moment.

Community at its heart

Native Foodways, a First Nations-owned-and-led social enterprise, is currently working alongside collaborators to strengthen the native food system in a way that is also culturally respectful and benefits First Peoples.

Last year, the social enterprise unveiled its first bakery – also called Native Foodways – in the Wintergarden Shopping Centre at Sydney’s Circular Quay.

It was something that Corey describes as “not the simplest thing we’ve ever pulled off”, not least because the bakery doors opened just two weeks before the Voice Referendum.

“When we opened there was a week or two of oddness, and then there was about two weeks of awkwardness after it,” Corey said.

“But there’s only one thing you can do [in this situation] and that’s to kill everybody with kindness, and that’s because not everybody shows kindness.

“There’s a lot of screwed up faces from people who can’t get their head around a kangaroo chilli pie, and want to voice that concern.”

The Native Foodways bakery menu heavily features native products, and over-the-counter chats about the various ingredients are a daily occurrence.

Corey speaking at a public event

Education and collaboration to strengthen food systems.

Corey said he’s found people in general don’t know what native Australian produce is, what it tastes like, or how to cook with it.

“It’s not every day you can walk into a shop featuring bush foods of the quality we have. But we know their education levels are extremely low… Australians from all over just don’t fully understand our food, why it’s good for them and why it’s good for the country,” he said.

“We often have an exchange of information over the counter without a sale. That was one of the reasons why we chose to have the bakery at Circular Quay and not in Redfern. We wanted to have this chat.

“We may not have fully known the fight we were in for, but regardless we couldn’t stray away from it because its too important for people not to know. I think it’s comfortable to say we’re the oldest bakers in the world, and I just don’t think we talk about that enough.”

Corey now dedicates a large portion of his time to developing the Native Foodways bakery menu, experimenting and implementing his ideas. It’s a constant work in progress, he said, but for every 10 mistakes he makes he finds five gold nuggets.

Included in this list is a saltbush slaw on a sandwich with bread that has been made by AP Bakery, who Native Foodways works in collaboration with, as well as kangaroo salami sandwiches and wild boar sandwiches. However it’s wattleseed Corey said he’d like to see in every Australian pantry.

“Roasted wattleseed is one of the best things you can get in your pantry because you can do so much with it. It’s incredibly versatile,” he said.

“You can cook with it, you can drink it, you can make sweets out of it too. It’s useful on a lot of levels, and highly nutritious too.”

Native grazing box from Native Foodways

Native grazing box from Native Foodways.

What’s to come for Corey

When asked about what the future holds for him Corey said there were many things he’d like to tackle, from increased education about native foods to bringing more First Nations voices to the table when it comes to sharing this knowledge with the wider industry.

But essentially, it all comes back to his passion for what he does.

“This is just me doing life, you know? Coming up with these ideas and thinking about stuff. I’ve always got bush food around,” he said.

“I feel like this is what I’m meant to do. I’ve tried to do other stuff before, but this is where I’ve felt way more comfortable with what I’m doing and what I’m meant to do. If I tried to do something else, I think I’d be back doing this within six or eight months.”

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