Keeping it simple

Keeping it simple

George Calombaris talks about how cooking is influenced by our heritage

Australian chef George Calombaris

George Calombaris, one of the most popular faces in the culinary world, was recently in town for the third season of ‘World on a Plate’. The Australian chef was visibly excited to be back in India and cook some of his signature dishes for his fans. Talking about the event, George said, “World on a Plate is not just about food. It’s about the people behind all the food. It puts focus on all those hard-workers who create all those stunning meals for people.”

In his flagship restaurant, The Press Club, in Melbourne, Australia, this Greek-origin chef brings to the plate the best Australian produce in Greek flavours. But what he’s more popular for around the world is his role as a judge on Masterchef Australia. His signature phrase ‘Boom boom, shake the room’ is probably something all Masterchef viewers associate him with.

George is a chef who likes to stay true to his heritage. And he advocates the same for others too. He said, “When I come to India, people ask me, ‘How can I make Indian food modern?’ But I get confused by that question. It’s so important to hold on to your heritage and authenticity because that’s what we, as consumers, want. We come here to experience the real deal.”

Here are some edited excerpts from an exclusive conversation:

How does it feel to be back in India?
It’s a beautiful relationship. I love coming back to India. I always believed that people make places and not the other way around. And people here have been incredibly warm. So I am thrilled to bits to be here yet again.

How has the past year been for you?
Like anything in life, when you fly too close to the sun, you are going to get burnt. And that’s okay. I am privileged that I have got a great life. There’s never a dull moment. I am lucky that I have got an incredible people that work for me. I have a staff of around 600 people and I love them dearly. We got a lot of exciting things coming up in the next 12 months. Masterchef is on air currently in Australia and it is rating number one on television every single night of the week. And this is after 10 years, so that’s pretty crazy!

What are your favourite flavour combinations?
There are two sides to George; there’s the George that loves classic flavours, things like tomato and basil, peanut butter and jam. But there’s also a George that likes things that are a bit unusual; like caviar and white chocolate. I am a foodie and foodies should never be pigeon-holed. They should always have an open heart and mind. They should look at food in a subjective way. All that matters is that it’s got to be delicious.

For someone who doesn’t know anything about Greek cuisine, how would you describe it?
Simplicity, it’s all about great produce that’s cooked in the simplest way. It’s the reason why they are the healthiest people on earth. It’s a four-one diet: four parts plant and one part protein. It’s healthy food but delicious. It’s all about seasonality; you don’t eat tomatoes in winter, you eat what’s in season during that time.

What are the main challenges of running a restaurant?
There are lots of challenges of running a restaurant. My father always says, ‘If it was that easy, everyone would do it.’ I am lucky that I have got people that surround me, and look after all the aspects of the restaurant properly. So, I am left to do what I do, which is the creative part of the process. And that’s a challenge itself: it’s not like you can just press a button and the ideas come flowing out. It involves a lot of thinking and feeling and is also emotional and evocative. I have to think about those who work with me and those who come all the way to experience my food. It’s all tangible. It’s a big challenge, but I absolutely love it!