This week, we chat to Adam Liaw, co-host of our upcoming series Destination Flavour, which celebrates this nation's unsung food heroes. In this interview, Adam opens up about the joy of meeting the real faces behind Australian produce, his thoughts on "food snobbery", and cooking for his new bride.
After winning MasterChef in 2010, you must have been inundated with TV offers. What made you decide on SBS and Destination Flavour?
It may sound strange, but I never actually had ambitions to do anything more on television after MasterChef, and so I resisted a few offers for different kinds of shows in the early days. But when SBS approached me to do Destination Flavour, it was a very different story. I’m addicted to shows like what Luke Nguyen and Peter Kuruvita are doing. I think SBS makes some of the best food television in the world, and it always has a bit of a unique and interesting angle to it. It’s all about telling really great stories.
Prior to filming Destination Flavour, what expectations did you have? What surprised you the most after filming began?
I think a lot of people, myself included, might have thought that filming a food and travel show is just swanning around and eating a few things. There certainly is some of that, but it’s also hard work. I travel with a small crew, so it’s up to us to do it all – sourcing produce, dressing sets, cleaning up – and sometimes that all runs to a 14- or 15-hour day on your feet. I wouldn’t give it up for the world, though.
What one experience during filming will you never forget?
One moment I just loved was standing in waist-deep, crystal-clear water in Coles Bay in Tasmania, pulling oysters straight out of the water and eating them right there. The best oyster experience I’ve ever had.
What was your knowledge of regional Australia before hosting this show?
Like most people I guess, I’d travel around regional Australia with my family on camping trips as a kid, and graduated to short weekends away as an adult. But spending a lot more time in the country with a specific focus on finding the best food has been wonderful. It’s really made me think twice about why I bother living in the city.
Do you have a food philosophy?
I think food is best when it’s an authentic representation of the person and the place. Dishes, restaurants, and entire cuisines are inspired by those who make them and the places the ingredients come from. It may sound grandiose and silly, but I think the way we cook and eat is the ultimate connection between human beings and the world.
What was the greatest lesson you learnt about Australia's food industry while filming?
I never knew how many passionate people we had in the Australian food industry. From chefs and restaurateurs to amazing home cooks and farmers, there are millions of fascinating stories that make up Australian cuisine. I’m so incredibly proud that Destination Flavour has given me a chance to share some of those stories.
Is there anything that concerns you about the current food scene in Australia?
One thing that worries me a little is the increase in "food snobbery" that I’ve noticed – people looking down at dishes or ingredients that are too simple or basic. We seem to have a funny obsession with "gourmet" without anyone really bothering to work out what that means. Try a well-cooked potato grown by someone who cares about it, just with some butter made by someone who’s passionate about making the best butter, and it might change your mind about what "gourmet" is all about.
You’re newly married. What are some dishes you’ve made for your new bride?
We joke around that my first cookbook has just become a really long menu for my wife to choose from, but, at the moment, I’m in the middle of recipe testing for my second cookbook, so she doesn’t get much choice in what I serve up each night. For a special occasion, though, it’s always Hainanese chicken rice. It’s her favourite and mine too.
In your own words, what makes Destination Flavour different to other food-lifestyle programs out there?
In Destination Flavour, we try and show you as much of the people that produce the food as we do of the food itself. Sometimes, it’s a farmer who’s family has been working the same land for six generations. Other times, it’s a world-class chef who started teaching himself classical French cookery at the age of five. Having a chance to see the passion that drives people to produce food like that, and seeing what makes these people tick, is something that’s so important to what I believe in food.
Did you find any new ingredients on your travels that you wish to eat for yourself now that you’re home?
Too many! I come home from every shoot with twice as much baggage as when I left because I keep bringing things back! Sometimes it’s small, like a few jars of Ligurian honey from Kangaroo Island, but, sometimes, it’s a bit bigger, like a case of wine from Tasmania, a bag of the best potatoes from the Victorian Central Highlands or a few hundred dollars worth of full-blood Wagyu sirloin from Millicent in SA.
Follow Adam Liaw on Twitter.