Food Safari returns this week, peeking into homes across Australia where international cuisines always come with a hot pot of stories and cultures. And there’s no back-stabbing in sight.
“Ours is not a competition. It’s about unique people, most of whom are not celebrity chefs, who share something of their food which is achievable for ordinary mortals at home,” she says.
“You can learn a recipe and learn something about where the recipe is from without it being dogmatic or lecturing. It’s just a beautiful half-hour of immersion in a different cuisine and people who have come to Australia.
“Some of those traditions are stronger with those people in Australia than they are back home. So in a sense Australia is able to foster cuisines and links to where they have come from.
“So we are very different and we love being different.”
O’Meara travels around Australia for the fourth season (six if you include Italian Food Safari and French Food Safari). Each episode focusses on a different cuisine in a different part of the country, introducing locals with a story to share.
“There’s Laos, Afghan, Polish, South African and quite a few more including the creole cuisines of Darwin and Broome,” says O’Meara.
“So we’re looking at Australia’s unique cuisines that have developed in the far north rather than the cities.
“The Broome creole cuisine came about through the pearling industry with Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, Filipino and Aboriginal people sharing recipes.
“There’s food there you won’t find anywhere else in Australia and some ingredients that are rare like pearl meat.”
O’Meara is both presenter and producer of the series through her own Kismet Productions. She now has over 20 years with SBS.
“I’ve been at SBS since 1990. I joined SBS with Dateline as a refugee from the Sunday programme on Channel Nine,” she recalls.
“It’s great to have a long association with the network.
“Food Safari probably fits every aspect of the SBS Charter. Most shows tick the box somewhere along the way but I think the celebration of food and what people have brought is subtle and delicious. It’s really going behind the lace curtain to people’s homes and I think people really warm to that.
“When we were filming at Mindil Beach in Darwin I was mobbed. Now I don’t get mobbed very often and I suppose we did have a camera there. But people were asking, ‘When is the next one on?’
“So there’s a real interest in what we do which is lovely. Because it’s not about the presenter, it’s about the real people.”
There are 10 episodes this season, including everything from cooking freshly-caught wild barramundi in coals on a riverbank with a Chinese Aboriginal to an authentic Afghan tea ceremony in Melbourne and honouring the ancient Peruvian earth mother in a ground oven feast in a Sydney backyard.
“For the Laos episode we filmed at the Water Festival out in Bonnyrigg. There’s a big temple there. There were buckets of water being thrown at people and pounding these big green papaya salads. The exuberance and wonder and colour of it was fantastic,” O’Meara explains.
“To be able to film my close friends in Broome with their home recipes was wonderful. It’s a beautiful place where the red earth meets the blue sky. Just an extraordinary part of Australia that has produced one of our very few creole cuisines.
“To film them in their home, they’re absolutely sparkling, charming, funny, you just feel a connection with them.
“Food Safari, and Food Lovers Guide before that, helped to lead the food revolution. It certainly put it on the map at SBS.
“It’s great to be a part of it and perhaps to be doing things that are yet to be seen on the major commercial television stations.”
Food Safari returns 7:30pm Thursday February 14 on SBS ONE.