Ingeborg van Teeseling

Maeve O’Meara: Our cultured, unheralded food maven


Our food culture is inexorably linked with our television. While we hail Preston, Colombaris and the other guy, we’re not giving Maeve O’Meara her due.



Ok, so now I need your help. I know the nominations for Australian of the Year 2019 have closed. But there is always 2020, and for that you can nominate now, and you can do that here: My suggestion would be Maeve O’Meara. Frankly, I don’t understand why she hasn’t been made something yet. Something in the Order of something, or Dame, or an Australian Living Treasure. Because let’s be frank: nobody in this country has done more for multicultural Australia than she has. After twenty years of Gourmet Safaris and almost ten years of Food Safari on SBS, we now know what lemongrass does for food and what a quandong is. We know where to get the best kimchi pancakes and how to make our own jeon. She has introduced us to the right way to build a hangi and how long to cure your prosciutto in the shed. In short, she taught us how to eat what we are, where we are, and who we are. And in doing so, she has made strange, normal and multicultural part of us, whoever “us” might be.

When I still lived in Holland, Maeve O’Maera’s Food Lover’s Guide to Australia did more to introduce me to this country than anything else. And I still recommend her programs to new migrants. Maeve’s Australia shows us the best we can be. And that goes further, much further than food. Food is made by people, men and women we don’t regularly come across, in neighbourhoods we are slightly scared of. Meave, in colourful t-shirts and with a big smile, introduces us. Tells us, lets us experience, that there is nothing to be afraid of, that it is ok to venture into Haberfield or Oakleigh. That the big man who looks so forbidding is in reality thinking about tabouleh or nougat instead of a way to kill you. That he has a family, a business, a backyard, and the same hopes and dreams you do. Maeve brings us into contact with the woman behind the chador, so she can show us how to make Kabuli palaw. Food, of course, is important, because it is the language of multiculturalism. Only when we have broken bread do we accept different religions, languages, unpronounceable names, cultures that we haven’t grown up with. So this is what Meave does: she lets us sit at lots of tables, share in generosity, and take nourishment, in more ways than one. There is kindness there, and openness, and suddenly what we see and experience is less foreign and more “us”.

We live in strange times. With “It’s ok to be white” motions and other forms of intentional or unintentional racism, Maeve O’Maera is a counterpoint to that. Not political, not in your face, not with a wagging finger. But where others build walls, she breaks them down, recipe by recipe, meal by meal. Because of her, our Australian Masterchef is the only truly multicultural version in the world, with dishes and contestants that the British or Albanian or Belgian versions can only dream of. Maeve is what Jacinta Ardern is to politics: a voice of hope in a sea of trouble, a shining light in a dark world where everybody seems to hate everybody else. In short, she is the antidote we need to celebrate.

Right here, right now.

What do you think? Can you nominate her too?


Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating from Holland ten years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She endeavours to explain Australia to migrants new and old at her website, and runs, telling people's life stories.

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