For so many years growing up on Sydney’s east coast and spending lots of time at the beach, I’d see rock fishermen picking their way around the rocks to the big rock platforms where the sea would surge in.
Maeve O'Meara, Guy Grossi

5 Dec 2013 - 12:21 PM  UPDATED 30 Jun 2015 - 5:55 PM

They’d have rods and buckets and all sorts of bits and pieces and I used to wonder what the attraction was. Then you’d hear on the news about terrible tragedies as some of these fishermen would be swept off the rocks. With all that danger, they’d still do it.

It wasn’t until I met a man who coaches novices like myself that I understood the lure of the sport. Alex Bellissimo (great name isn’t it) lives for fishing. He was entranced with fishing from an early age and has gone on to make it his day job, running Rock and Beach Charters. And he’s good. He thinks like a fish. He knows where they are and what they’re doing at particular times of the day. And he loves the beauty of the ocean and feel of the wind and open space. I caught when I went fishing with him and it was a beautiful fish – too beautiful to eat I thought so we threw him back to grow a little bigger.

In Melbourne, chef Robert Castellani is a stone’s throw from the ocean at St Kilda’s Donovans Restaurant where he is head chef. Robert cooks snapper in a way I’d never seen before. Baking it on the oven but standing it up horizontally with foil, cutting diamond shapes into the flesh and brushing it with a mixture of oil and herbs. And as is tradition, he pops a gold coin in its mouth as an offering.

It’s intriguing finding little parts of Italy in Australia. Like the Cucina Italiana cooking school in Sydney’s Annandale. This is a one woman business run by Luciana Sampogna who is passionate about cooking good Italian food and was lucky enough to find a beautiful old Italianate house to make her home and business premises. She loves teaching how to make bread and pasta and a lovely little snack I’d recently discovered in my favourite Italian deli. They are a cross between a savoury biscuit and a pretzel, like little knotted grissini sticks baked in the oven.

A bigger slice of all things Italian is to be found in Victoria’s King Valley in the state’s southeast. Many Italian families came to settle here in the late 1950s and 1960s, specially those from the north who had come from similar terrain. One of those families was the Pizzinis, who came from northern Italy’s Alto Aldige region. They grew tobacco which flourished in the hot summers; the whole family working to harvest and sort and dry the leaves. As the years went by, they started growing wine grapes – varieties popular in Australia – and later turning to Italian varietals such as nebbiolo, sangiovese, arneis and pinot grigio.

This was one of Guy’s stories and looking at the pictures from that trip featuring Fred Pizzini’s duck ragu and Nonna’s strudel and four generations tucking into this wonderful al fresco feast inspired me so much that I went to visit them last month. It's strange being in places you’ve seen on television. They look the same and the people look the same and the great thing is that you can taste those fabulous wines and sit down at the table and eat that great food.

I guess that’s one of the great things about filming in Australia and showing the results to an Australian audience – the recipes are certainly achievable and most of the places are easy to get to ... so you too can go into the world that we have spent time in and go and get a kiss on both cheeks and have a chance to taste what you’ve seen on Italian Food Safari.

Enjoy exploring and cooking!