Cam Smith’s voice is so well-suited to radio – warm, rich and sonorous – that you wonder whether he chose the broadcasting life or if it chose him.
Smith is a veteran of radio. His Eat It show on 3RRR first aired in 1987. Each Sunday, he and co-host Matt Steadman take over 102.7FM on Melbourne’s airwaves with talk of gin and jaffles, cookbooks and country pubs, penalty rates and regional tourism.
“Cam has told the stories of producers, chefs, dishwashers, migrants, wine-makers – big and small, known or unknown” says Jill Dupleix, Legend Emeritus and chair of Melbourne Food & Wine Festival’s Legends judging panel. “And he has done it all on a voluntary unpaid basis.”
Smith came to radio after a career as a chef that included running his own restaurant in West Melbourne and cooking at one of Australia’s most luxurious resorts, Bedarra Island in far north Queensland. After lunch service in Melbourne one Friday, he got a call from 3RRR asking him to replace a slot that wasn’t performing with his own show, one focused on food.
“I remember thinking for three whole seconds and just going, ‘Yeah!’,” Smith says. “If I didn’t, I would have been the stupidest person in the world.”
In 1987, before rock-star chefs and a food-curious public had surfaced, Smith and his show were the outcasts of the station, he says. “The cool kids were the rock kids.” But he was interviewing his heroes and his peers, emulating journalists he admired such as Alan Saunders, and striving to create what he calls the theatre of the mind: “where you can get ideas, tastes, smells, the concepts of people over the radio and hopefully it’ll provide great vivid images for people as they’re listening”.
If there’s a good story to be told, Smith will find it, elevating the good and the great in Victoria, tackling the thorny issues when necessary, and interviewing many of the food world’s biggest names, including Massimo Bottura and Roger Vergé, as well as Melbourne’s own visionaries including Vernon Chalker and Frank Camorra, along the way.
Aside from the show, Smith has worked on the sets of MasterChef and Iron Chef Australia and is a regular presence on the stages and demo kitchens of events including this festival, The Royal Melbourne Show and Bendigo Festival of Lamb.
But it’s radio that’s his true love.
“One of the things I love about it is it’s so intimate and it’s so familiar. That’s one of the great things about being able to do a show for so long: you’re part of the furniture on a Sunday for a lot of people.”
In recent years, The Builders Arms monthly trivia night has put a face to the voice for a new generation of fans. Smith hosts and writes three rounds of questions on all things food and drink. You might be tasked with naming the French mother sauces, identifying obscure pasta shapes placed on the table in front of you, or asked for the ingredient list of a particular cocktail. His partner in crime, Builders Arms’ manager Peter Baker, works with him on the sensory challenges, vetoes the questions, and brings the gags.
“Cam is an absolute gentleman,” Baker says, “I always look forward to him visiting the pub. This tall, handsome man with the booming voice comes walking in and you instantly smile.”
Without Eat It, without a food-obsessed pub quiz, without Smith’s work in television and at our state’s festivals, fairs and agricultural shows, it’s almost certain that the palates of Victorians would be worse off.
“He is the most enthusiastic foodie in Victoria, and we love him, because he gives everyone a voice,” says Dupleix.
Smith makes food fun, he creates space for anyone who’s curious and willing to learn, and he champions the people of the industry who bring passion and hard work to everything they do. He’s a true leader in that he brings us all along with him, inviting us to eat better, know more and get closer to one another in the process.
Photography and video: Kate Shanasy.
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