18th December, 2023

In conversation with BOTY shortlisted author Nornie Bero

Mabu Mabu (Hardie Grant Books) is an intricately crafted cookbook that melds together a perfect balance of memoir and recipe. In between stunning graphics and mouth-watering recipes, Nornie Bero recounts how her upbringing fostered a love for food and explores the deep connection between culture, identity and food.

—BOTY 2023 judging panel

We were lucky enough to chat with Nornie about Mabu Mabu, one of the shortlisted titles for the 2023 SPN Book of the Year Award.

To see the full shortlist, click here.

Q. The book is gorgeous, inside and out. What was the design process/working with your designer like?

The designers and team at Hardie Grant were so amazing. They took my vision and made the perfect cover which represents everything Mabu Mabu is about. The team also took me to some amazing spots in Victoria to shoot some images to be included in the book. They found some incredible locations which reminded me so much of my home in the Torres Strait. It was really special to have that experience and include it in my cookbook.

Q. You mention in the book that you have a lot of favourites when it comes to foods and flavours. Are there any favourites that didn’t make it into Mabu Mabu?

Absolutely! I would’ve loved to use more produce from the Torres Strait, but it can be hard to find in Melbourne. Wongais and wild passion fruit were some of my favourite fruits growing up and I would love to publish recipes using these in the future. Wongais taste like a mix of plum and tamarind and they can be used in sweet or savoury dishes. Recipes are already coming to mind as I’m thinking!

Q. Would you ever consider writing another book/cookbook or a more detailed foragers guide?

100%. I would love to write an urban hunter and gatherers guide for natives. People would be shocked to know how many edible natives are growing right in their backyards, local parks or down by the beach.

Q. Without giving your harvesting spots away, how much harder do you have to look/ further do you have to travel to wild forage the things you need for you recipes, here in Melbourne?

Not far at all! Natives are growing all over the place, we just need to learn how to identify them and the best ways to prepare them. There are also more and more suppliers of native foods these days and you can find all sorts of goodies at your local farmer’s market.

Q. Who taught you the most about food; gathering it, and cooking it and has anything changed about how you ‘help yourself’ these days (compared to your early/childhood days)?

My dad and Aba, my grandma, taught me so much about local produce and traditional techniques growing up. My Aba had a full island garden in her backyard and we used to pick different fruits and vegetables to experiment with in the kitchen. Growing up on the island I used to watch the aunties preparing food – skinning everything to make pakalolo and other dishes. They made it look so easy, just sitting together and yarning away. Whilst all the other kids were playing outside I would just watch them and think ‘I want to do that!’

Nornie Bero is from the Meriam People of Mer Island in the Torres Strait and is the Executive Chef, CEO and Owner of Mabu Mabu. Bero has been a professional chef for more than twenty-five years. Her style of cooking is all about generosity and flavour and she has been creating dishes using Australian native ingredients for much of her career. Mabu Mabu’s venues – Tuckshop in Yarraville, and Big Esso in Federation Square, Melbourne – champion Islander flavours and Australian native produce. Through the business and her book, Nornie is on a mission to make Indigenous herbs, spices, vegetables and fruits a part of everyone’s kitchen pantry.

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