The masterchef from Down Under

The masterchef from Down Under
His love for high-fives and dislike for spices is well-known among all the viewers of the popular TV show ‘MasterChef Australia’. So when George Calombaris, one of the much-loved judges of the show, was in the City recently, everyone’s favourite question to him was how he was taking to the spice. “It’s not that I don’t like Indian cuisine, it’s just that I can’t take the heat. I immediately turn into a sprinkler! But I’ve been fortunate to enjoy some great Indian food and I think it’s also important for people to know that Indian food is not just about ‘butter chicken’. There’s a great range of it that everyone can enjoy,” he said.

In association with Zomato, he was here to launch the ‘GC’ series and give a taste of his culinary delights along with chefs from his restaurant ‘The Press Club’. While he dished out ‘Ouzo cured seabass with miso eggplant, celery and herbs’, ‘Soft shell crab souvlaki with honey lime, coriander and mint’, and ‘Salted caramel rice pudding with almond biscuit and rice ice cream’ at JW Marriott, he also charmed everyone with his culinary experiences and quick sense of humour. “Well, I can talk and cook — I can do two things at the same time. What a man!” he remarked during the cooking session.  

The masterchef spoke at length about his experiences in the City — from going to Cubbon Park for a run to enjoying a delicious breakfast at ‘Airlines Hotel’. “I had an amazing time eating at Airlines. What an ambience the place has, be it the waiters or the food! The ‘dosa’ and the deep-fried savoury doughnut (‘medu vada’) were amazing,” he said.

As someone who believes that food should be meaningful, real, emotional and evocative, he said, “My religion is food. It must have that finesse to transport one to a place they have never been to before, and not just fill one’s stomach.” When asked about the rising number of food critics in the industry and the challenges faced by chefs, he said, “We are not perfectionists. The food we make is not manufactured. Occasionally, something does go wrong.” A keen learner, he added, “I love learning. The minute I stop learning, I will quit the industry.”

An Indian dish he would love to reinvent is the ‘pani puri’ and he did try his hand at it during his stay here. “I made my own version of it with pickled onion, feta cheese, star anise, mayonnaise and parmesan cheese as the filling. And yes, I tried the actual one too and enjoyed the acidity of the tamarind,” he said. The curry leaf is another Indian ingredient that really amazes him. “It’s cheap, humble and has a rich flavour.” When asked if he has discovered Australian food in India during any of his visits, he joked, “No and even if I did, I’d stay as far away from it as possible!”

A simple man with a simple life, he said, “My life is all about the restaurant, going home and playing soccer with my kids. At home, it’s my partner who cooks.” While coming to India, he spent his time writing menus and watching the movie ‘Chef’. “Just like at the end of the movie when he’s focussed on flipping the sandwich, I believe that ‘when you’re in the kitchen, nothing else matters’. I take by that everyday.”

He said that he is sure to go back to Australia with a full stomach and with the Mysuru ‘peta’ and shawl that he was presented with. Also a cricket bat as a souvenir if he got the chance! “I know our team hasn’t been performing very well of late but we were good once upon a time and we had Shane Warne,” he wrapped up with a twinkle in his eyes.  

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