The good food message is sinking in, says the Walkabout Chef 


A book and a television series are in the pipeline for Charles Darwin University’s celebrated Walkabout Chef.

Steve Sunk, who recently won the Northern Land Council’s Top Trainer award for his work in teaching cooking and nutrition in Indigenous communities is completing a book on his experiences in the Territory.

The book has been written in conjunction with photographer David Hancock, who followed the Walkabout Chef on his many trips. It is planned for publication early next year.

A television series designed around his engaging personality is also planned for next year—provided the producers can find the funding for an initial pilot episode to tempt commercial or public broadcasters to commit to a full series.

While some funding has been promised, the producers still need a major sponsor to get the project off the ground.

Sunk, a lecturer in cookery at the Palmerston Campus, spends most of his time on the road heading for Indigenous communities – hence his name the Walkabout Chef.

Trained in classical cuisine in Adelaide, Sunk came to the Territory 12 years ago and quickly built a reputation for his enthusiasm in teaching cooking skills to Indigenous communities.

Over the past decade he has covered most of the Territory—‘from the desert to the saltwater people’—in his quest to deliver the message that imaginative cooking and sound nutrition leads to good health.

He has set up his cooking classroom and ‘Back to Basics’ program in community centres, school classrooms, on verandas, in sheds and under tarpaulins and ‘anywhere I can create a kitchen’.

With the flair of the innovative chef Sunk has incorporated traditional bush tucker into his cooking, showing Indigenous mothers and their children how to combine foods such as goanna with bush vegetables and plants to create delicious stews and casseroles.

For the opening of the community-run Titjikala luxury camp south of Alice Springs, for instance, he whipped up a goanna bouillon with crispy witchetty grubs and bush tomato damper.

After criss-crossing the Territory with his cooking classes for a decade, Sunk feels that the message of healthy eating is beginning to sink in with Indigenous communities.

‘There is no doubting nutrition has been a big problem, but it’s starting to change,’ he says. ‘The kids know fats are no good for them, and they’re less fond of Coke and sugars. They’re even asking for more vegetables, which is all good news.’

While most of his classes have involved teaching mothers and young women how to cook, he says young men are becoming more interested how to prepare food.

‘Next year at Maningrida, for example, we will have 12 men aged from 16 to about 30 enrolled in our VET cooking classes.’

Having spent some time as an executive chef in Sri Lanka, Sunk now devotes his own spare time and talents to charity work among the young people in that country whenever possible.