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Maeve O'Meara is an award-winning television food presenter and author. Her next season of the much-loved Food Safari program focuses exclusively on Italian Food in Australia.
April Smallwood

2 Mar 2010 - 5:05 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Maeve O'Meara is an award-winning television food presenter and author. Her next
season of the much-loved Food Safari program focuses exclusively on Italian Food
in Australia.

What's your secret food shame?

I can't let myself near Arnott’s Savoury Shapes – there’s something in them that makes me eat the whole box!

What's the No.1 ingredient you can't live without?
Olive oil. I’ve just poured a lovely golden moat [of it] in the hummus I’ve made I also use it on salads, and to cook almost everything in. I have a number of types, including a wonderful, viscous, green Sicilian oil that makes salads magic. And I’ve learnt so much more about it after filming Italian Food Safari – my wonderful co-presenter, Guy Grossi, speaks of it with such reverence. He says it has almost medicinal properties.

What inspires you and your food?
The people I meet, the places I go – I run food safaris every weekend, so I’m continually in shops that sell interesting and delicious ingredients. Having covered 34 cuisines for our Food Safari series, I have a good working knowledge of a huge range of cuisines and, luckily, have access to ingredients all the time. I reckon that’s half the battle – getting the ingredients you need easily.

Last weekend, I was in a large Middle Eastern emporium. They sold almond meal and I thought, "Oh, great! I’ll make that orange-and-almond cake from the Jewish episode". It was fabulous. Every time I visit Auburn, I come back with incredible Turkish produce – from yoghurt to fruit jams, capsicum and pepper pastes. They push me as a cook and introduce new flavours at home.

What can you learn about a person from the way they prepare their food?  
I was always find it intriguing that chefs can reach some great culinary heights in restaurants and are happy to settle for a toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich or two-minute noodles at home. That said, I love the care that many Asian friends put into their food and its presentation – it embodies their gentle spirit. Or the flair that some of my Italian friends or Greek or Spanish friends add to what they cook. It's always a revelation.

What is the recipe you most like to cook?
I love Greg Malouf’s salmon with tarator sauce and a garden of chopped herbs and walnuts and chilli on top. It looks great as you bring it to the table and it tastes so fresh and good.

What's your favourite recipe to...

Toss up between Fred Pizzini’s duck ragu from Episode 7 or Maurizio Esposito’s crayfish gnocchi in Episode 5.

Comfort? Beef bourguignon and sensational mash from French Safari.

Make for an easy weeknight dinner?
Ten-minute laksa from Malaysian Safari.

What chef has been your inspiration?
My most food-spattered cookbooks are from two great cooks I’ve admired for so many years: Charmaine Solomon and Maureen Simpson. Charmaine’s Asian cookbook has been my bible and she has signed it to make it ever more special; and Maureen is my other most cooked from book – her recipes always work and her voice through the recipes is like a friend standing ready to help.

What's your favourite food event in Australia?

I’m loving the rise of Australia as a food-loving nation, with festivals devoted to food and weekly farmers' markets, and celebrations of regions and their great produce. I’ve spent the last two years judging at Hobart’s Taste of Tasmania, which is just after Christmas as the Sydney to Hobart boats sail up the sparkling Derwent River. I love the relaxed atmosphere and generally great food – it's always good to see farmers coming to the city.

Your favourite cook book, food show and cooking utensil?  

Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy – Food and Stories was my bible during the filming of Italian Food Safari – sensational to read and cook from. My favourite food show is Antonio Carluccio and wonders are made in my Kitchen Aid.

Anything else you want to tell your fellow foodies?
I’m so pleased that a band of food lovers exists – like the best sort of secret or not-so-secret society, where great tips and discoveries are passed on. It's exciting to be alive and kicking in Australia today; we are humming along. And there’s more to come and more to discover. And I’m so honoured that you food lovin’ souls out there enjoy the Food Safari thing... You are going to love Italian Food Safari – rich, warm, delicious, a banquet to be savoured. Enjoy!