Sulawesi: where sweat and fly spray get the shot

Hot and sticky ... Josh Martin in Sulawesi.
Hot and sticky ... Josh Martin in Sulawesi. 

SWEAT is dripping off the end of our noses as we finish filming a cooking scene in the scorched and oppressive heat of the Indonesian sun.

The only thing left to film is the final "hero" shot of a delicious barbecued trevally with accompanying sambal, but the rich aroma of shrimp paste and fried fish is drawing every fly in the neighbourhood. The only way to get our shots is to add the one ingredient we don't list in the recipe - liberal sprays of Mortein all over the food.

People often think it would be great working on a travelling food show. "Lucky you! You get to eat all that beautiful food!" they say. But it takes a lot of blood, tears and sweat to get those sumptuous shots of fresh food against an exotic backdrop - lots of sweat.

First, you choose a location. You want the location to be as interesting as possible, and not too far from your cars.

You need to avoid any location that is too noisy, such as under flight paths, near mosques or beside Asian slaughterhouses (squealing pigs are not TV-friendly). Ideally, you try to set up in the shade, as five hours in the baking sun is not fun for anyone, but for the sake of the shot, this is not always possible. Unfortunately for us, the scene today involves no shade and we have set up at the bustling docks of Makassar, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

Presenters wear a wetsuit under their clothes to stop moisture on crisp TV shirts.

At least they were bustling two hours ago when we arrived. But the locals are a lot smarter than we are and have retired to the shade to wait out the worst of the day's heat, with the added benefit of watching a strange bunch of Australians slowly getting heatstroke. To add insult to injury, we have placed the chef beside a hot charcoal barbecue for the duration of the shoot. Presenters perspire like the rest of us, and sweat stains on those preparing food is not considered palatable. The solution? Quite often presenters will wear a wetsuit under their clothes to stop any moisture soaking through to their crisp TV shirts. But today we are taking the easier solution and have bought two identical shirts.

Today our lack of skills in the Bahasa language has also proved to be problematic. Earlier, the chef's assistant had spent the morning scouring all the shops and markets for the ingredients needed for the dish. One was salt to rub on the fish. After a few hours, he returned from the shop triumphant with all the ingredients on the list, including the bag of salt. The salt was rubbed onto the fish but something didn't look right. A finger taste revealed a bitter chemical taste - he had bought MSG. The shop owner had given us the other white substance that improves flavour, and this is definitely another ingredient that we won't publish in the recipe. But it does add a rather nice sheen in the shots!

Finally, after half a bottle of SPF30+, we survive the equatorial sun and the Mortein-infused dish is immortalised on film. The shots look fantastic, but unfortunately the food is inedible and we very guiltily dispose of it. This is television, though, and in order to get all the shots we need, we need to film the whole scene again. After a couple more sun-drenched hours, a beautiful sizzling trevally awaits, and this time we get to eat it. But once again the locals outsmart me and emerge from the shade to devour the dish before I get a look in.

Josh Martin is a producer on the SBS cooking show, Island Feast with Peter Kuruvita.

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