MasterChef Australia judge George Calombaris on the world’s love affair with food

June 16, 2018

Indian food is not just curries, says MasterChef Australia’s George Calombaris as he talks about the shift in food culture and his love for butter chicken and jalebis

 

The annual ‘World on a Plate’ event in Bengaluru held every year, sees hordes of foodies, chefs and restaurateurs come together to celebrate food. This year, MasterChef Australia’s judge George Calombaris was the crowd puller, and as usual, he did things in style. When I joined him on his table as he sat looking over the Bengaluru skyline, the conversation of course turned to food.

George’s connect with India is not new, but it is definitely unique. “In Australia we like our space, but now with so many trips to India, I have become an expert. I really enjoy my time here. I feel a sense of familiarity. A lot of familiar faces,” says George.

‍George Calombaris 

Food culture has changed drastically

 George started his flagship restaurant The Press Club in Australia in 2006, and today his hospitality group, MAdE Establishment, comprises 20 restaurants including gems such as Hellenic Republic and Gazi. With two decades in the industry, he has seen multiple trends and shifts. According to him, in the last couple of years, the food culture has undergone a massive shift.

 “The world has gone through a massive shift in their love affair with food. People across the world have either got a chef they love, or a restaurant they love, or they jump on to YouTube to learn how to make stuff,” he says.

 

Thanks to the internet, it has become easy to connect over food and learn things quickly. “We are so connected now more than ever. When I started cooking 23- years-ago, the only way you could learn about other chefs was order their cookbooks, and that would take two months to reach. Now, you can get everything instantaneously, which is great and fantastic.”

However, he does caution that gaining knowledge is hard work and one has to earn it. Passing on the knowledge one has learnt is also important, he says.

 Indian food is not about a curry

 George is often seen sweating on MasterChef Australia when he eats chilli while sampling a contestant’s dish. I ask him how he manages the spice in Indian food.

“I love chilli,” he says. 

“There is a perception that I don’t. But when I eat chilli, I sweat. Both my dad and sister sweat when they eat chilli, so it’s in the genes.”

 George, who had his fill of dosa at breakfast earlier that morning, says he likes butter chicken, and when he is craving for Indian sweets, he indulges in jalebi. Though he is quick to point, “I have learnt that India is not just about a curry. It is so much more,” says George, pointing out to the diverse food habits and cuisines that India is home to.

 

Battle of the mind

The recent demise of Anthony Bourdain is still on all our minds, and the conversation shifts to a pertinent though hardly discussed topic about stress and depression. Opening up on the topic and as someone who had interacted with Anthony, he says, “

Anthony is not the first amazing person we have lost in the last twelve months. This has sort of triggered me to think how we do things now.”

 

To deal with such challenges in the hospitality industry, he has a solution and what he is doing at his level. 

“Eventually, I would love to see a place for chefs, where people from the hospitality industry can come to talk, and where they can open up. But it has to first start at the workplace. What we are doing at our establishment is powerful, and we are probably the only group that is shaking the industry up and putting the staff first. If we can do that there, then we can set up this initiative and in the interim, it is my job to ask my staff how they are.”

 

I ask him who has his back, or who watches out for him when he is busy with all his projects. He promptly responds, “I am very lucky I am surrounded by incredible people. My Chairman is an incredible man who has been a ray of sunshine for me in the last few months. My board, my staff and my executive chefs, and there are half a dozen of them that I absolutely cherish and adore and I have got a great family.”

 On that high note he signs off only to go and gear up for the dinner night he is hosting later in the evening. 

Again, George doing what he does best, dishing up finger licking food and having his audience eating out of his hands.

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