MasterChef's George Calombaris: 'I'm a chef, not a professor'
George Calombaris is standing in the midst of pandemonium. “There are builders everywhere, I have a new restaurant opening in a week, and it’s chaos!” he tells us over the phone-in interview from Melbourne. The MasterChef Australia judge has a fourth outlet of Hellenic Republic — a brand that serves up wholesome Mediterranean cuisine — opening its doors days ahead of Christmas. But the launch of this one will be extra special.
“It’s been a dream of mine to put science behind our food and not just say it’s Mediterranean, it’s good for you,” he says. Working with La Trobe University on a new Hellenic health menu which bears a 4:1 ratio of plant-based food to meat has meant getting knee deep into research, and to have professors back up his menu, he says is “bloody cool”. At the end of the day, he adds, “I’m a chef, I’m a cook, I’m not a professor — so we’re lucky now to have professionals be a part of what we do.”
With Italian roots in the heart of Sicily, exploring Mediterranean cuisine with his own research has spanned through much of his career. As for healthy food, you can tell this runs deeper than brand value when the father of two shares, “My kids are banned from eating fast food 100 per cent.” Whether he is on set shooting, travelling or in a business meeting for any one of his growing list of restaurants on the map, he says, “Planning ahead to keep on top of things is just common sense.”
His no-nonsense approach to wholesome, nutritious food allows no excuses either. “I’m sure we’ve got time to get our nails done and our hair done. It’s important to look after what you put in your mouth,” George dishes out some tough love.
I cooked for Sachin Tendulkar the last time I came to India. Absolute legend, love the guy!
What fans of MasterChef likely may not have heard about with the Season 9 underway in India is that 2017 has been George’s toughest year yet. Between reports of him alleged assaulting someone at a soccer game to a scandal around underpaying his staff a whopping $2.6 million in wages — you might say the past year has been a nightmare. But the 39-year-old celebrity chef shows no signs of cracking.
To stay strong in the thick of controversy, he’s picked up some new habits, “I’ve learned how to meditate from an amazing guy, Jonni Pollard, and that helps me a lot,” he shares. He chooses to focus on what makes him happy, with a packed Christmas ahead, “I’m cooking breakfast in the morning for my staff and then I go home to spend the day with my kids,” he shares. And the cherry on top of course, is the next season of MasterChef Australia. “We’re already shooting it,” he reveals, leaving us curious for details. “It’s going to be full of surprises is all I can tell you,” his voice crackles over the line. He elaborates judiciously, “I mean what can I say, it’s Season 10, it’s going to be a celebration.”
Fast & slow
How do we make food that is both fast and healthy?
Oh I've started a brand called Jimmy Grants to solve that problem. It's fast food, made with a slow food mentality.
For young chefs, how do you handle a bully in the kitchen?
I don't employ bullies in the kitchen so I wouldn't know.
MasterChef Australia airs on Star World, Monday to Friday at 9 pm.