Savill's obsession with good food is now shared by all

Julie Power
Fairfax Media's <i>SMH Good Food Guide</i> editor Joanna Savill with ACT Tourism Minister Andrew Barr.
Fairfax Media's SMH Good Food Guide editor Joanna Savill with ACT Tourism Minister Andrew Barr. Photo: Graham Tidy

It was in Italy's gastronomical heartland of Bologna in the early 1970s that the outgoing director of the Good Food Month Joanna Savill discovered that being obsessed with food was "absolutely OK".

That realisation drove Ms Savill, who started her professional life as an interpreter and translator of French, German and Italian, to make an obsession with food "perfectly normal" for many Australians.

Ms Savill was the inaugural director of the  Sydney International Food Festival, which Fairfax launched in October, 2009, which later resumed its original name Good Food Month presented by Citi.  It has since expanded across Australia. 

After eight years as editor of the Good Food Guide, she announced on Tuesday that she would leave Fairfax at the end of the year.

Ms Savill comes from three generations of food-crazy cooks. Her grandmother was a good country cook andher mother was part of the revolution in cooking in the 1970s triggered by cookbooks like Charmaine Solomon's and Margaret Fulton's.

But it was late one night when studying languages in Bologna that she discovered the joy of being perfectly normal. "We were out having drinks and someone said 'It is almost three o'clock in the morning, that's when bakeries start selling bomboloni' a donut with custard in the middle. It was completely natural to stay up to get them, or to drive to Florence to get the best gelato," she remembered.

"It wasn't widely held practice to be obsessed [with food] in Mosman," she said.

One of her greatest joys is the celebration of Australian food and produce. "I love that there appears to be a newfound and widespread pride among chefs around using what is distinctly Australian and finding an Australian "voice" in their cooking," she said.

There have been too many memorable meals to remember, she said. But she did single out Good Food Month's 2013 challenge to some of the best Australian chefs – including Dan Hunter, Neil Perry, Peter Gilmore, Mark Best, Martin Benn, Kylie Kwong, Ben Greeno, David Chang (honorary Australian), James Viles, Brent Savage – to create the Great Australian Dish as a highlight. And the best dish that day? Martin Benn's charcoal-smoked Western Australian marron, yuzu curd, sea samphire, lemon aspen, ginger, shiso and shell powder.

Always the diplomat, Ms Savill stressed it was one of 20 amazing dishes.

Working at SBS as an interpreter and translator, she discovered a family of foodies. Inspired by them, she and former Herald reporter Maeve O'Meara launched in 1992  the SBS Guides to Ethnic Eating which she said "unlocked the hidden delis and bakeries." That resulted in the Food Lovers' Guide to Australia television series on SBS.

In Australia for Good Food Month this year, the international phenomena and cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi said "there are no other food festivals like this, certainly nothing in London with so many different events on such a scale."