SBS is again investing heavily in local food content for 2020, commissioning new series from perennial channel favourites, Adam Liaw (also a MasterChef alumni) and Luke Nguyen – both presenters whose best work is done when they’re out on location, chatting with locals and immersing themselves in the local scene.
Silvia Colloca also has a new show, Cook Like an Italian, on air in early January. SBS bought the series after acquiring Colloca’s YouTube episodes for its On Demand platform, the content proving popular with viewers. They asked her to consider producing a half-hour series along the same lines.
For Colloca, a classically trained Italian-born opera singer who fell into food presenting some years ago after relocating to Sydney where she now lives with her husband, actor Richard Roxburgh and their three young children, Aussies’ love of travel and their love of food TV makes total sense.
“We are in such a lucky geographical position, and we are exposed to all these cuisines of people who have moved to Australia, like me,” says the food producer and presenter. “You’ve got the closeness to Asia, and to all the beautiful Polynesian countries – it’s an explosion of ideas and creativity that of course will make you itch to go into the kitchen and try and replicate all of those things.”
She says cooking shows in Australia are about much more than “just the food”.
“It’s about an exploration into the culture the food comes from, or into what event the food is created for – it offers so many different points of interest, and entry, and it allows us to have lots of different conversations about food. It’s really wonderful.”
On a recent trip back to Milan to visit family, Silvia says she was struck by how different the cooking shows she was watching back home are to those being served up here.
“They are still doing the whole classic, ‘Stand and stare in front of the camera and cook stuff,” Silvia explains. “And I think, even if it’s Italian food and it looks good, it’s just not enough.”
Chan’s new series, though shot on home soil, also has that trademark intimate feel that SBS’ locally produced series aim for. In it, she’s joined by friends, including her flatmate and fellow MasterChef alum, Khan Ong. Together, the pair go shopping at Springvale markets in Melbourne, where Ong’s mum owns a butcher. Then it’s back to their set kitchen to cook Vietnamese. There’s a convivial, familiar feel.
“I wanted to do a TV show, but I didn’t want to do a stock standard one,” says Chan, who admits it took about six months to get her concept funded and off the ground. “The set is a bit darker, because it’s night-time tellie, and we don’t talk to the camera – we talk off camera, so it’s all a bit more inviting. It’s as if you are in the kitchen with me.”
“I think food has the power to create so many stories; stories that are not necessarily related to a recipe or a technique,” Colloca explains. “It’s about the ritual, and togetherness, and I think we are [showing] that really well in Australia at the moment.
“There is great talent, but also good producers and TV networks that understand that it is a language that is not just about taste buds.”
At the moment there are two free-to-air food networks – SBS Food, and Seven’s version, 7Food, which began a year ago. According to SBS, its Food channel will be the only free food channel next year, though Seven maintains the struggling 7Food will continue.
Whether or not there is room for two dedicated commercial food networks seems irrelevant – as a country, we can’t get enough of food TV, consuming it even via prime-time on the main channels, through hugely successful reality franchises, My Kitchen Rules and Masterchef. Seven is also planning on adding a new format, Plate of Origin, recently announced at its Upfronts, set to be fronted by ex-MasterChef judges Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston. Meanwhile over on Foxtel Lifestyle channel continues to roll out food content 24/7/365.
So what does it all mean?
It means we’re hungry for food TV – and it’s a trend that doesn’t look like stopping any time soon. “And if all that doesn’t make you cook, maybe it makes you want to travel!” Colloca admits. “And that’s great too!”
Asia Unplated with Diana Chan premieres on SBS Food on Thursday, December 19, at 8pm. Cook Like An Italian premieres on January 8 at 8.30pm.