“It was so humbling,” says chef Paul West of a very special cooking lesson he was given earlier this year – in Mozambique.
West was one of six Australian chefs given a special opportunity to head to different destinations around the world to cook like a local. Their amazing experiences, from Mark Olive being welcomed to a makeshift kitchen under a giant boab tree in Tanzania to Sarah Todd being taught how food is cooked in the ground in Fiji, are chronicled in a new series, The Good Cooks (starting on Thursday 8 November at 8.30pm on Food Network, Channel 33). All of the chefs – the team also included Dan Churchill, Rebecca Sullivan and Luke Hines – say they learned a lot during their time on the road.
“The food was simple but deeply nourishing, it was wonderful to cut to the bone or what food really is, regardless of where you live,” West says in an Instagram post about his trip.
Along with a chance to learn from local cooks, each of the six chefs also learns about food security and sustainability, and how research is making a difference to crops and lives.
MEET THE TEAM
Dan Chuchill is a busy man - the New York-based Aussie chef co-founded a new restaurant there, and has been producing his own TV series, Feast with Friends. He's a brand ambassador for Tourism Australia, and he also regularly appears on shows including Good Morning America and The Chew. Australians might also recognise him from his days on Surfing the Menu Next Generation. And then there's his blog, his YouTube channel and several cookbooks. Like we said, busy man! But The Good Cooks gave him a chance to take a break and become a student of cooking again. In the first episode of the series, Chrchill travels to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, where he learns how to make seafood soup, make rice paper rolls and even catching and cooking a local water snake.
Mark Olive, aka ‘The Black Olive’, is no stranger to cooking in far-flung locations, but this adventure takes him somewhere new: into a village in Tanzania.
Olive has cooking for more than 30 years, and sharing his passion for food on TV shows including his ongoing roles as co-host on On Country Kitchen on NITV and as one of the judging panel on the SBS series The Chefs’ Line. A proud Bundjalung man, Olive is a keen advocate for using native ingredients, and in The Good Cooks, he learns about a key part of another country’s staple diet. Where he travels in Tanzania, the village chickens are a vital not just for their meat and eggs but as a source of income, as a stepping stone to other livestock and for their manure to enrich vegetable crops. Mark learns how to cook chicken like a local in a make-shift kitchen under a giant boab, and also gets a lesson in making flatbreads.
The list of what Rebecca Sullivan has turned her hand to is so long that it would be easy to miss something she did back in 2010. You might know her from her contributions to NITV and SBS Food as a writer and recipe creator; her appearances on numerous TV shows; her books; the native ingredients and wellbeing business, Warndu, that she runs with her Damien; or her role in launching, helping to organise or appearing at festivals in Australia and around the world. But back in 2010, Rebecca completed her Masters in International Rural Development, Climate Change and Sustainable Agriculture at the Royal Agricultural College in Gloucestershire in the UK.
So it’s not surprising that she was chosen to be part of the Good Cooks team. As well as learning to cook like a local, each of the Australian chefs learns a little of the food security and sustainability issues facing the locals.
For Rebecca, this meant that during her trip to West Timor, she learned how raising beef cattle can help Indonesian farmers break out of the poverty cycle – but poor-quality cattle feed, particularly in the dry season, is a problem. One solution is the introduction of a new, fast-growing Australian acacia legume, which not only feeds cow but nourishes the soil to then help other food crops flourish. One of those crops is corn, and during her trip, her cooking lessons with the locals included a corn dish – and rather a lot of chilli!
You can also find Rebecca on Instagram
As anyone who has watched River Cottage Australia knows, Paul West cares deeply about where food comes from, and the people who produce it. The chef-turned-farmer shared four years of his life on a coastal NSW farm after a nation-wide search chose him to follow in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage footsteps. Now living in Melbourne with his wife and two sons, West remains passionate about communities, real food and sustainability. He’s a regular presenter at festivals and also makes appearances on Gardening Australia and other tv and radio shows. And he’s still passionate about farming.
In The Good Cooks, West travels to Mozambique. He visits a farming cooperative on the outskirts of Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, to see how a project backed by Australian Government’s Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research is helping local farmers develop a better irrigation system. He also learns how to cook like a local, including Mozambique’s outstanding seafood.
Find Paul West on Instagram
A familiar face on our screens from her days on Masterchef and then on My Restaurant in India on SBS, which chronicled what happened when she took on the challenge of setting up an eatery and bar far from her Melbourne home, this model-turned-TV star is also a cookbook author, restaurant consultant and hugely popular in India.
Todd spends a lot travelling, and she's always keen to see how the locals do things. In her adventure for The Good Cooks, Sarah Todd had a chance to learn more about Fiji, including meeting local fruit farmers and spending time with some locals cooking up a traditional feast cooked underground.
Find Sarah Todd on Instagram
During his 15 years in the wellness industry, nutrition coach and personal trainer Luke Hines has developed a passion for healthy food. His love of food has seen him on screen in My Kitchen Rules; he’s also the author of nine cookbooks, and runs an on-line 10-week wellness program. And now he’s part of the Good Cooks team, where his journey takes him to the Philippines.
With the Philippines made up of more than 7000 islands, seafood is hugely important for food and for people’s livelihoods. Luke learns about the local seafood industry, as well as a getting a chance to cook like a Filipino.
The Good Cooks premieres on Thursday 8 November at 8.30pm. The series airs Thursdays at 8.30pm (with an encore on Sundays at 6.30pm) on SBS Food, Channel 33. After they air, episodes will stream on SBS On Demand.
Find out more about the work of ACIAR here.