12 May 2022

World-leading chef Mark Best returns to Murray Bridge


World-leading chef returns to Murray Bridge, treats SACE students to native food cooking masterclass
One of the world’s best chefs, Mark Best, returned to the town where he grew up this week, putting on a cooking masterclass for Murray Bridge High School students and showing them how to prepare dishes using native ingredients.

Well known for his multi award-winning Sydney restaurant Marque and time on Netflix’s The Final Table, Mark Best is one of Australia’s most revered chefs and now travels the world cooking, taking photos, writing and talking to people about food.

Mark’s self-professed passion though, is sustainable local food. Now, following an extended agri-produce tour of the Riverland and Murraylands, Mark has fallen back in love with the region’s produce. So it was a brilliant stroke of coincidence that led him back to the school where he took his first home economics class, and unbelievably, back to the teacher who led it – Roxanne Rowland.

During the workshop, Mark cooked not only with local seafood (including Coorong Mullet and Pipis), but he also worked with native plants grown on the Murray Bridge High School agriculture block and at Monarto Safari Park – including saltbush, lemon myrtle, Warrigal greens and native thyme.

Through the school’s entrepreneurial program, students were working on ways to take some of its native plants to the commercial market, and so a key element of the workshop was to show them the value of these ingredients in cooking when being used by a world-class chef.
After they got over their initial nerves, the 19 students lucky enough to be involved in the 2.5 hour workshop (including 3 from neighbouring Mannum Community College), were helping prepare Warrigal greens, tasting seafood they’d never tried before and asking questions about their own dishes, careers and new ingredients to test.

This incredible event was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some of the region’s food and hospitality SACE students as Mark spoke to them about his journey, from being born in the Mallee town of Pinnaroo, moving to Murray Bridge for high school, and then on to his early career as an electrician. However, just as Mark eventually found his passion for cooking, he encouraged the students to “dream big” and keep pursuing their full potential.

“I’ve always had a really inquisitive nature, and I’ve been able to explore that through food and different cultures around the world. That’s what I want to encourage these kids to do,” Mark says. “I hope they can see my journey, and believe that anything is possible, because I started just where they are now. I went from being a young guy dreaming about pouring cappuccinos and then went on to be standing on a stage in London accepting the best up-and-coming chef award. “The world should not be cut off for kids in the country, and I’m proof of that.
“I even remember walking into my first Murray Bridge cooking class with Mrs Rowland and we made something called a ‘manwich’ that was a hollowed-out bread roll with fritz and cheese. I ended up making them for the whole family and taking them to the footy that weekend. Now I cook for people around the world using food from across every culture.”

Mark also talked to the students about his most recent cooking event in Loxton as part of Tasting Australia. During an 11-course banquet, he and Africola’s Duncan Welgemoed served up 300 guests with a European Carp dish and a range of other locally grown, produced and sustainable dishes – helping change perceptions on local food.

“We source things from incredibly passionate farmers and growers. It’s a huge responsibility for us as chefs to take that work and accept responsibility to represent that on the plate,” Mark says.

“They were charging $185 per head for a dinner, so you have to bring your A-Game. That’s the kind of challenge I want these kids to dream of.”

Mrs Rowland said one of her greatest teaching highlights was seeing successful past students like Mark come back and visit, because it gave students the opportunity to “see what they can be”.

“Mark is an incredible example of what these kids can achieve if they follow their passions, and I’m not surprised that he’s gone on to be so successful, he was a great student,” Mrs Rowland says. “Mark’s been able to inspire so much in these kids, because it’s demonstrated from a career point of view that their dreams can become a reality, but it’s also shown them the very practical side of valuing what’s in our own backyard. “Through the entrepreneurial program our students now look at their learning through the lens of business opportunities, and Mark’s visit has proven that the native food we’re growing right here at the school farm can be sold for use in a commercial kitchen. “Up until now, the kids had no idea how to use these native products. But, you could see their heads start spinning as Mark started cooking right in front of them, pairing wattleseed-covered Coorong Mullet with saltbush ‘chips’, and frying up local Pipis with Warrigal greens.”

Year 11 Food Technology student Antonia Peressin is already working in hospitality, planning a career in that industry and said she absolutely loved the world-famous chef’s visit.
“It’s pretty cool to see that someone like Mark came from Murray Bridge High School and he’s just really passionate about his work and doing something he enjoys,” Antonia says.
“I actually helped plant some of those native plants, and I never thought we’d see them cooked like that. What he did created so much intensity to the flavours, and now we’re all feeling inspired to experiment more with those type of ingredients.”

The students will now go on to create an assignment on cooking with native ingredients, with discussion amongst the group ranging from wattleseed ice cream, through to kangaroo and damper.

Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland Regional Manager Julie Bates, who has been working with Mark in recent months said this was his only school-based visit in South Australia.

“These kids are so lucky to have the opportunity to spend time with Mark. Amongst this group are our future chefs, future producers and future entrepreneurs, and Mark has helped them shift their perception on what’s possible,” Ms Bates says.

“Not only this, but it’s got people talking about the world-class food that’s right here in our region. Whether it’s using European Carp on a banquet, or cooking with saltbush in a classroom – the opportunities are endless.”