By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minnesota Zoo is adding a taste of the Australian Outback in a brand new exhibit, and also in their concessions operations.

“We’ve never done anything like this,” Jim Sanford, Assistant Curator of the Minnesota Zoo’s new Kangaroo Crossing exhibit said.

There are no barriers, nothing keeping the animals from the rest of us.

So, how close can zoo visitors actually get?

“As close as they’ll let us. We don’t encourage petting out here. These animals are just to look at,” Sanford said.

The zoo has 18 Bennet wallabies, 18 red kangaroos and a lot more on the way.

“Almost all of them have a joey, either sticking out or just getting ready to stick out. We have a couple are old enough to hop around the exhibit and explore with mom,” he said.

So, with thousands expected to get closer to Australia than they ever imaged by taking a walk in Minnesota’s version of the “down under,” the zoo’s executive chef Jodie Miller, from Lancer Hospitality, knew she had to inject some of the Outback into the zoo’s concession operation.

“Of course we had to put another shrimp on the Barbie,” she laughed.

The concession stand gets 4,000 visitors on a busy summer day, so the Australian inspired menu had to be accessible to everyone.

“Minnesotans eat pretty basic, not that there’s anything wrong with that,” she said.

The food also has to be quick for the team from the zoo’s concession vendor, Lancer Hospitality, to execute. With the shrimp skewers, they pre-cook them in the kitchen and then finish them on the grill with one of several sauces.

So, what do Australians eat?

It’s not just Vegemite.

“Meat, meat and more meats. Lots of meat and everything is barbeque. Their weather is beautiful so they can be outside more than three months like we can,” Miller said.

Don’t worry, they’re not extending the kangaroo theme to the Walkabout Grill.

But, there is pork sausage, which they soak in Australian Foster’s Beer.

Instead of French fries, you’ll see lots of potato croquettes.

Little touches to bring a taste of Australia to Apple Valley.

And, if Miller needs more inspiration, she can just wander over to visit the emus and kangaroos and wallabies in Kangaroo Crossing.

The exhibit is open through Labor Day, and it is included in zoo admission.

Minnesota Zoo is located at 13000 Zoo Boulevard in Apple Valley. For more information on the zoo or the new exhibit, visit the Minnesota Zoo online.

Jason DeRusha