The Well Travelled Chef

Story contributed by Danielle Murray,
Written by Tarla Kramer

Recipes accompanying this story:
Camel Burgers
Wattleseed Tiramisu

Like many successful chefs, Dannielle Murray first developed a love of cooking in the family home. From a very early age she learned that family and food were strongly linked and that preparing meals for your kin was a way of showing you cared for them.

“The family, Mum, the aunties and the uncles, they were always great cooks and every time we sat down for a meal when I was younger, there was always family around. I remember cooking when I was a kid and thinking, ‘I want to be a chef when I grow up’,” and that’s exactly what she did.

Dannielle’s work as a chef has taken her all over Australia as well as overseas. Born in Quilpie, Queensland, Dannielle moved to Quorn in 1974 at age four, with her parents Leo and Nancy, and did all her schooling in Quorn.

The four years of her chef’s apprenticeship were spent working with the Australian Hotels Association, Adelaide, before she got a job at the famous Red Ochre Grill at the end of 1991.

She was with the Red Ochre Grill company for a total of seven years. The first two years were at the original restaurant in Gouger Street, Adelaide, then in Cairns for four years and, lastly, she helped open up a restaurant in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane. The highlight of her time with Red Ochre Grill was a trip to Thailand for four weeks promoting native bush food. Dannielle did a second promotional trip to Taiwan with ROG a few months after leaving the company, to help promote Queensland.

“I’d always dreamed of travelling overseas, so when they picked me I was over the moon, it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done. I’d recommend to any young people to seize the chance to travel. You learn such a lot when you’re working with different chefs from overseas, even when there’s a language barrier. That was the hardest part to adjust to but when you’re working closely with them you do pick up the language through cooking.”

Another highlight was her appearance on SBS’s Food Lovers’ Guide to Australia in 1997, cooking crocodile at the Cairns restaurant.

Dannielle left Red Ochre Grill in 1998 and, after a stint at Wilpena, ventured to the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales. “I did a snow season over there in Perisher and it was a very different experience for me because I’d never even seen snow, but it was much too cold for a girl brought up in Quorn!” What she did enjoy however, was meeting many backpackers from all over the world, but “me and the cold weather just don’t get on!”

So in early 1999 Dannielle headed inland, getting a job at Kings Canyon “which was just full on. While I was up in Kings Canyon Jane Fargher rang me up asking me to come and work for her in Parachilna, at the Prairie Hotel,” but having only just arrived there she did not take up the offer until late in 1999.

In September 2001, after 15 months at the Prairie Hotel, Dannielle headed to Africa to fulfil some of her travel dreams. “No work was involved,” she says, “I was just being a backpacker, travelling around and I loved every minute.”

“When I left Australia for the first time I was so scared and thought, ‘Oh my God what am I doing?’ But when I got there it was different. I just met so many people from all over the world and could not believe how many Aussies there were travelling in Africa. Also Africa reminded me a lot of Australia so I didn’t get homesick.” After Africa she went on to England, “and then I went up to Scotland where I had my first white Christmas; loved it, loved Scotland.” Dannielle would have liked to have kept travelling but in February 2002 she returned to Quorn, visiting Bali and Hong Kong on the way home – “the food was delicious”.

Initially when Dannielle had set out on her journey, she was not sure whether she would continue as a chef on her return home. “I was going through a stage of thinking maybe I should try something different; I thought I might go into the tourism industry. I remember climbing this big hill in Scotland and I as I sat on the top of the hill I thought, ‘I miss cooking’.

“When I came back Jane Fargher was on the phone again – ‘Where’s Danni?’ – and so I came back from overseas with no money and straight into a job.”

After another year at the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna, Danni went to Innamincka, in between stints at the pubs in Quorn; she has worked in all Quorn’s pubs at different times. During her two stints at the Prairie she appeared on television twice, on the Great Outdoors and Getaway. “For a little place there were a lot of things happening,” and she catered for movies, such as Rabbit Proof Fence and several car commercials.

During her years at the Red Ochre Grill as well as the Prairie Hotel, Dannielle has done more cooking with bush food than most. She had good access to bunya nuts and macadamias, as well as many fruits, such as Davidson plum, lillipillis, Illawarra plum, lemon aspen, Burdekin plum, native limes and quandong. All of those fruits were good in desserts, chutneys, sauces, relishes and cakes. Her favourite native ingredient is lemon myrtle, “I just love the lemony smell of it,” she says.

Dannielle has cooked with kangaroo, emu, camel, wallaby, and buffalo as well as crocodile, which tastes a bit like fish or chicken. “Wallaby shanks are quite nice,” she says. “Kangaroo and emu should only be cooked medium rare, never overdone, as it has no fat.” She eats emu, but not kangaroo, “I’ve never liked it, plus I had them for pets and they’re so cute. I’ve cooked up possum but couldn’t bring myself to eat that either.” In Africa she tried Impala, warthog and just a taste of zebra, “which was quite nice.”

2004 brought a slight change in direction for Dannielle, when she left the tourism industry to work for ESS Compass Group, a large company that specialises in catering and other services for mines. Her time with ESS has taken her to Woomera, Jabiru in 2006, where she met her partner, Peter, and Newman, in WA’s Pilbara region where they currently live. She resigned in 2009 as she was expecting their baby daughter, Izabella, who was born in Quorn in November that year.

“I never dreamt I’d be a mum,” she says having just turned 39. “I thought that, for the rest of my life, I’d be cooking here, there and everywhere, going here, going there, ‘cause that’s what I enjoy doing. Travelling, seeing different things, meeting different people. Now I’m changing nappies!” Dannielle will definitely be teaching Izabella how to cook and the importance of the link between family and good food, “but it’s up to her what she wants to do in life. The main thing is that she has a good education.”

“I thought my life was going to be just me and maybe a couple of dogs. Never ever thought I’d have a partner, a beautiful baby girl and two dogs!”

Recipes accompanying this story:
Camel Burgers
Wattleseed Tiramisu

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