Like many celebrity chefs and restaurateurs, George Calombaris says his love of food started from an early age. “I just loved being around the kitchen and watching my mum and yiayia cooking for the family,” he says. “I used to hang around the kitchen bench all the time.”
Over the last 20 years, that love of food flourished into a foodie empire, with George Calombaris owning no fewer than seven restaurants and appearing as a judge on the widely successful cooking show MasterChef.
Brisbane diners were lucky enough to experience an exclusive taste of his Gazi restaurant with a pop-up dinner at Atalanta on July 7 as part of Good Food Month. George says one of the most popular dishes by far was the iconic (and delicious) soft shell crab souva.
The Australian chef, who once appeared on daytime cooking show Ready Steady Cook, says he is so fortunate to have been asked to be involved with Network Ten’s MasterChef series.
“MasterChef has been such a huge part of my life. At the time when we got asked to do it, we didn’t really know what to expect; it takes up a huge part of the year filming but I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to meet some of the best chefs in the world!” he says. “I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled the world doing what I do, sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe it.”
George says food is constantly changing and evolving, especially with social media. He admits that being in the spotlight can have its downsides.
“With social media these days, people can put their opinions out everywhere. Sometimes it’s difficult not to take them personally,” he says. “You just have to keep a bit of distance.”
A few years ago, the television co-host and judge lost 20 kilograms and he revealed to Style that he didn’t adopt a crazy diet to do so. Instead, the change was kickstarted by a goal to eat heathier, cut out cheeky chef snacks during the day and stop eating after dinner service at 11pm at night.
His advice? Keep it simple and have everything in moderation.
“I cut out processed sugars and focused on eating wholefoods and bringing exercise back into my routine,” Calombaris says.
You might be thinking, “That’s easy for a chef to say. He probably spends a lot of money on his weekly grocery shop.” WRONG!
“The average person can afford to eat healthy and wholesome,” George says. “You should be heading to your local fruit and veg market or farmers’ market and buying what’s in season. You want to use the best produce at the right time for the most delicious meals.”
With this season of MasterChef coming to a close, George says he is very humbled to see past contestants from all series finding life and careers in food after the cameras stop rolling.
“Whether it’s their own restaurant, food products or cooking schools, they’ve all made their dreams into a reality. I’m very proud to see them grow and love our industry as much as I do.”
1. When you’re not cooking, you’re… spending time with the family
2. Who in the world would you want to dine with (dead or alive)? My late grandfather and David Beckham.
3. Your favourite Brisbane dining venue is… GOMA, I can’t wait to get back there after eating Josue’s food.
4. Your last meal on earth would be… everything I’ve ever eaten!
5. Your top bit of advice for aspiring chefs? Hard work!