Newcastle made an impression on Alo Baker.
The television and radio presenter was in town recently, filming a television show for 7Mate that airs later this month. Called The Food Dude, the eight-part series stops off at various interesting "foodie" destinations. Adding Newcastle to his list was a no-brainer.
"I've always loved the food scene in Newcastle and especially those on the beach," he said. "I could spend a week there just eating burgers at all the different places, then when I finished I'd move on to pizza, or pasta. The place knows how to do food - and do it well."
Milky Lane on Darby Street, Criniti's at Westfield Kotara's The Rooftop, and the Royal Hotel at Waratah were among the restaurants to make the cut. Baker says he wishes he could have showcased more.
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The Food Dude is no Hell's Kitchen. Baker appreciates food in its many forms too much to be critical.
"I don't grill anyone or go Gordon Ramsey on them," he explained.
"Truthfully, the heart of the series is about showcasing amazing local people. The foodie industry is an unlimited world of exploration with millions of different twists that are all unique in their own way. Even if I didn't like something that's my opinion and not a reflection of a business's capabilities."
Many of the towns Baker visited have been doing it tough over the past 18 months due to the pandemic or last summer's devastating bushfires. Or both. Other destinations were chosen based on reputation, social media and old-fashioned word of mouth.
"The bushfires last summer smashed my family's property and nearby village so I got to showcase some local businesses and explain how they'd been doing it tough," Baker said.
"The people I've met and the stories I've heard will stay with me for a lifetime, from outback NSW bakeries to kebab shops in Wangaratta. The series shows the real heroes of the food industry: the men and women behind some of the most creative offerings in food I've ever seen."
Baker struggles to pick a favourite food experience from the series.
"The SSS BBQ Barn shank challenge was on another whole level," he said. "The chicken parma at the Royal Hotel in Waratah was tender and juicy, the Condobolin bakery was killer, and don't get me started on the two-metre pizza from Criniti's at Kotara. Unbelievable."
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