Fanning the flames
Foodie Maeve O’Meara fires up Food Safari to embrace more than the Aussie barbecue.
AUSSIE TV has gone barbecue mad.
First it was Channel Seven’s Aussie Barbecue Heroes with Ben O’Donoghue. Now Maeve O’Meara is getting in on the flaming action with SBS’s Food Safari Fire.
The shows come at a time when Americanstyle eateries are popping up all over the country, dishing up all sorts of smoked ribs, pulled pork and sliders.
But O’Meara isn’t jumping on a bandwagon. Instead, as Food Safari Fire shows, wood-fired ovens, smokers, spit roasters and grills feature in cuisines all over the world including Japan, Chile, Italy, Turkey, Vietnam, India, Greece, China, South America and the South Pacific.
Food Safari has done special series devoted to French and Italian cooking, so it makes perfect sense for the multicultural cooking show to focus on fire this time around.
“The series is timely because we’re coming into summer but in Australia we’re also keen to learn the authentic ways of doing things,” O’Meara says.
“Fire is something that we love in Australia – we fancy ourselves as fantastic with a barbecue. It is only when you look at other cuisines that you go, ‘Wow, there’s a bit more to learn’.
“We show techniques and flavours that most people here are yet to discover.” And how. In the first episode of Food Safari Fire, Sydney restaurateur Lennox Hastie is fanatical about matching food to particular woods. Delicate fruit woods will give a different flavour than grape vines. Lennox grills marron over nectarine wood.
Tasmanian farmer Rodney Dunn has a primitive backyard set-up of star pickets to cook pork belly over a fire pit and a string bag to roast a chicken.
Chef Tetsuya Wakuda uses a portable konro grill with a special binchotan charcoal to cook Spanish mackerel with miso and soy.
It is a long way from a snag with bread and tomato sauce at Bunnings.
“I’ve just put in a tandoor oven at home,” O’Meara says. “It is a different technique (to the traditional Aussie barbecue) and the result is great flavour. Luckily, it’s not that hard.
“On one end of the scale you’ve got the sophistication of flavour matching (wood and food) and you realise that there are different grades of charcoal.
“But you can also buy a $50 Middle Eastern barbecue and you can get absolutely delicious flavours from the likes of kaftas (Lebanese beef kebabs) cooked on skewers over charcoal.”
One of the most interesting segments comes in episode 10 when Samoan radio host Jerry Uesele uses hot rocks to not only cook a leg of lamb but also to create caramel for a traditional dessert.
Food Safari Fire shows this form of cooking more than just about food. It is also a major social activity.
“Some people might want to put a swimming pool or tennis court in their backyard but for others, something like a wood-fire oven enriches their life.
“Part of the joy is that it brings family and friends together. Fire is made, food is cooked and enjoyed, and that is the essence of the sweet life.”