In the words of Joanna Savill

Early career and maturity, favourite restaurants and dishes, the chefs to watch. Interview with the Australian food writer

11-08-2019
Food writer Joanna Savill, born in England and ra

Food writer Joanna Savill, born in England and raised in Australia. Among many others, she collaborates with the Guida di Identità Golose

Our series dedicated to the most interesting food writers and gastronomic critics of the moment. After French-Catalan Philippe Regol, French François-Régis Gaudry, Chinese-American Melinda Joe, Italian Andrea Grignaffini, it’s now the turn of English-Australian Joanna Savill

Tell us about your early career.

I was born in England a few decades ago! I migrated with my family to Australia when I was seven years old. At University I studied languages - French, German and Italian. It was a scholarship to the University of Bologna in the late 1970s that gave me a true understanding of food culture. I then lived in France, Germany and Belgium and worked as an interpreter before returning to Australia where I got a job subtitling movies and TV programs for a new, multicultural public television network. That is where I began writing about food - mostly through my colleagues of many different language and cultural backgrounds.

How did you develop your career?

I became something of an "ethnic food" expert as we have so many cultures in Australia and whole neighbourhoods dedicated to one kind of food - little Vietnam, Thai Town, Lebanese and Indian street food, Little Italy too, of course. And so many more.  I then became a TV reporter and journalist and with a friend, came up with a concept for a TV show on the many people and food cultures in Australia. We made the Food Lovers  Guide to Australia TV show for many years and also wrote restaurant and food shopping guides as well as cookbooks. Finally in 2007 I was asked to edit the Good Food Guide (the equivalent of Michelin in Australia) and create a new food festival for Sydney. That allowed me to travel widely and really explore the global food scene. 
Most recently I co-wrote Around the World in 80 Dinners with Janne Apelgren, former editor of Melbourne's Good Food Guide. It's a celebration of our most memorable meals around the world. 

When did you first grow passionate about food?

I grew up in a food-loving household - at a time when most Australians were not really interested in food. How things have changed! Food and cooking have always been part of my life. Living in Italy certainly fuelled that interest and I am married to a former chef, from Italy. 

Photo yourtv.com.au

Photo yourtv.com.au

Breakfast on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a highlight of the Sydney Food Festival (photo pinterest)

Breakfast on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a highlight of the Sydney Food Festival (photo pinterest)

When did you start writing?

Back in the early 1990s when we were writing guides to eating out and food shopping in Sydney and Melbourne. We also started writing feature articles for The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper's weekly food section about the hidden food secrets of the city.

What publications have you written for or write today?

I have written for most food publications in Australia at one time or another. I now write freelance for magazines like Australian Gourmet Traveller, delicious., Qantas magazine and the Robb Report, Australia. 

What restaurants changed your life? 

My first in depth experience of three star fine dining was in 2004 when I accompanied one of Australia's leading chefs, Peter Gilmore from Quay restaurant, on a trip through some of the leading restaurants in Paris and London. We went to l'Astrance when it had one Michelin, l'Arpege, Pierre Gagnaire, Robuchon, Troisgros... All so wonderful and at a time when a whole new approach was occurring - highly creative, new ingredients grown specifically for restaurants, conceptual tasting menus. We also went to the Fat Duck, St John, the River Cafe, Gordon Ramsay... life-changing meals. Highlights since include el Bulli (of course), Noma (of course), Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Piazza Duomo, Osteria Francescana, Central in Lima, Quintonil in Mexico City, Narisawa in Tokyo, Waku Ghin in Singapore, Faviken in Sweeen... and so many more. 

And more recently?

Maaemo in Oslo, Hisa Franko in Slovenia and Lyle's in London... And so many amazing Australian restaurants it's impossible to list them all - Orana, Brae, Attica, Saint Peter, Momofuku Seiobo top of the list. I never stop marvelling at a chef's ability to create and a restaurant team's ability to deliver an impeccable experience. Never underestimate the role of the front of house team. They make or break restaurants. More so even than the kitchen in many instances.  

The Lime and green tea mousse with liquid nitrogen from Fat Duck in Bray (photo thebigfatundertaking.wordpress.com)

The Lime and green tea mousse with liquid nitrogen from Fat Duck in Bray (photo thebigfatundertaking.wordpress.com)

Billy Kowng’s Saltbush cake (photo timeout.com/Anna Kucera)

Billy Kowng’s Saltbush cake (photo timeout.com/Anna Kucera)

What dishes changed your life and why?

Lime and green tea nitro cooked mousse at Fat Duck. Back in the day. Ferran's olives. Crippa's insalata 21,31,41 etc... Vegetables at Blue Hill. Sushi at Sushi Shintaro in Tokyo - straight from Tskukiji fish market. Sea urchin with caviar at Waku Ghin. Saltbush cakes, stir-fried Australian native greens and wallaby dumplings at Billy Kwong in Sydney. Beef tartare with lemon purée, sorrel and trout roe at Septime at the start of the bistronomy "movement". All those early Noma dishes. So many!

Casual dining or fine dining?

There is always going to be room for fine dining. It is the ultimate expression for me, still, of culinary creativity combined with a philosophy of care and service. My most memorable meals are mostly from those restaurants. Having said that, I totally appreciate and value the more casual approach and the enjoyment of say, somewhere like Lyle's in London or Ester or Fred's in Sydney. Septime in Paris remains a standout. We all love the innovative approach to simple, produce-driven, good food and flavour you find at say, Clamato in Paris or almost any good Italian trattoria. What worries me is the notion that casual dining is better value. The care and attention you receive in a fine dining restaurant comes at a great cost to the restaurant and deserves to be paid for. Not every day (I wish!) but when it's possible. We're lucky to have an incredible range of options, certainly in Australia.

Who are, in your opinion, the most under-rated chefs?

Most of the great talents in Australia because we are so far away for the rest of the world. People may know Ben Shewry or Dan Hunter or Jock Zonfrillo but what about Paul Carmichael (Momofuku Seiobo), Josh Niland (Saint Peter), Analiese Gregory (Franklin, Hobart) and any number of great Australian talents? 

Promise. Josh Niland from Saint Peter (photo goodfood.com.au)

Promise. Josh Niland from Saint Peter (photo goodfood.com.au)

Analiese Gregory, Franklin in Hobart (photo goodfood.com.au)

Analiese GregoryFranklin in Hobart (photo goodfood.com.au)

Who are the most brilliant young talents you’d bet on?

Josh Niland without a doubt. He is a young genius with the most extraordinary approach to cooking fish. His restaurant Saint Peter in Sydney is a revelation and has reached more than 90% usage of the seafood they buy. Most restaurants throw away 60% of the fish they source. 

Is there anything else you’d like to point out about our industry?

I like the new focus away from the usual suspects that has come from a push away from the 50 Best restaurants model. We have yet to see whether some new places will get their moment of fame. I think that while I love the truly great restaurants of the world where I have had the privilege of dining, we have so much to celebrate locally - wherever we are. And I would like to see more attention paid to great cooks doing wonderful things with great produce and plenty of integrity. 


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