When Stefano de Pieri made his debut on the television screens of Australia more than two decades ago, his mission to put Mildura on the map and to make it a must visit destination had just began.
Since the ABC’s series ‘Gondola on the Murray’ premiered in the late 1990s, Stefano has been an energetic advocate, working to enhance the arts culture and vibrancy of the region’s food and wine and tourism industry.
Next Thursday night at 7.30pm, a new television program, produced by ‘Cut To: Productions’ featuring the Italian celebrity cook, will premiere on ‘SBS Food’. Titled: ‘Australia’s Food Bowl with Stefano de Pieri’, the famous restaurateur takes viewers on a field trip to explore one of Australia’s most productive regions, the Murray-Darling River Basin − a river community he has called home for the past 30 years.
His original television show certainly added impetus to his ambitions for Mildura and when he turned an old cellar area at the Mildura Grand Hotel into a restaurant, people flocked there and it was booked solid for years in advance.
It’s now been more than two decades since Stefano broke new ground with ‘A Gondola on the Murray’, giving viewers here and internationally a glimpse of his hometown of Mildura.
With new passions to share and people to meet, his new 10-part series will see him explore the connection between the food producer and the consumer and the relationship between food and the environment it comes from.
Born in Treviso, near Venice, Stefano migrated to Australia in 1974 and made Mildura his home in 1991. On this fact-finding food tour, he’ll uncover the beauty and richness of the area, its community and how it is evolving. Stefano will introduce viewers to the people who put food on their table and turn their produce into mouth-watering recipes.
The program was produced in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which made the logistics of shooting the production challenging to say the least as Stefano recounts.
“The show is an achievement against all odds,” he said.
“We had plans, we had content, and those plans were disrupted with the frequent ‘hiccups’, especially considering that the production company was from Sydney’s northern beaches. That added complications.
“So it was a perfect storm in regard to affecting the smooth running of the production. Inspite of that we got it done, but in the course of the production, we had to abandon a lot of the local and Murray River content.
“A lot of the little intimate things we had planned to shoot in people’s homes, like salami making, which traditionally involves a group of families.
“Families couldn’t get together in the first place, let alone allowing a crew in, so that was disappointing.”
Stefano said in order to overcome these restrictions, he and the producers decided to focus more broadly on the sectors like almond industry and it’s massive growth in the region, olive oil production, garlic, exotics fruits and vegetables.
“The statistics relating to our almond and citrus industries are just mind boggling,” he said.
“I would say that it’s more of a documentary style − it’s more infotainment, rather than a lifestyle program but viewers will nonetheless find it very entertaining and informative.”
“The area to the north west of Victoria, where the Murray meets the Darling River, is one of the most productive areas in Australia,” Stefano said.
“It is a veritable food bowl. In this series, I’ll introduce viewers to this river community, from this region’s First Nations people, to farmers and food producers, and explore the relationship between food and the environment and also the plight of our rivers, especially the Darling River.
“Unlike my previous series, there isn’t a great deal of cooking in it and so I’m not in the kitchen as much, but I do cook some nice recipes.
“It’s not meant to be a cooking show. It’s about the region as a food bowl and what it produces − beautiful fresh, clean, green produce for the nation and export.
“I think the people from outside of the area who watch this program will find it very instructive and educational and I believe it will be a positive for this region’s tourism which I hope it gives a boost.”
Stefano and the producers are grateful for the support given to the production including Woolworths and he particularly thanked Mildura Regional Development and its CEO Brett Millington for the organisation’s enthusiastic involvement.
Mr Millington said that the Mildura region and surrounding communities will benefit significantly from the awareness that will come with the new series.
“Not only will this help connect people with the communities where their food is produced, but encourage people to make our region a destination point on their next travels,” he said.
“Gondola on the Murray did amazing things for the profile of the region and Stefano’s restaurant has been a powerful drawcard for visitors for decades.
“This new show introduces a whole new audience and reminds a new generation of the quality of produce that originates from our region and the stories and characters behind that. Creating links between the food people eat and the quality of the environment it comes from, and the challenges faced in production, it’s a great way to promote visitation to explore.”