So, what happens when the best-known food connoisseur meets a street food junkie or vice versa if you like! The street food junkie picks up some nuances of fine-dining – like how to make the food look good on a plate or how the flavors are played around with. She learns some tip and trends in the food industry and more than anything else she picks up some behind the scene flavor of the most popular food show on Television around the world. Here is a glimpse of my meeting with Master Chef George Calombaris.
When a Street Food Junkie Meets a Food Connoisseur
So, thanks to Cinnamon Hotels, I was in Colombo to explore Sri Lanka and to attend the gala event featuring none other than George Calombaris who you know as the judge of the MasterChef Australia. To be honest, I did not know much about him until I read about him before I left for Colombo. I watched a couple of episodes of MasterChef Australia and found him the quietest of the 3 judges. And, of course, the fact that he owns a few fine dining restaurant chains.
My first rendezvous with him was at a Press Conference where he was with all the event sponsors. He spoke about how it’s the people of Sri Lanka that make the country great. He spoke with gratitude about how he learned about the coconut and simple food of Sri Lanka from a village home in Sigiriya. And he proudly spoke about his Greek heritage and his love for Olive oil.
He spoke Cricket and congratulated Sri Lanka on beating India. I guess I was the only Indian in the room but then Sri Lankans and Indians do not look very different.
(He would repeat that 3 times at each of the events I attended – almost verbatim)
My second rendezvous with George was through a Greek Feast that he had created for the Cinnamon Life Auction Dinner. I loved the whole setting – live music in the central atrium of Cinnamon Grand hotel in Colombo, sit down dinner with well laid out tables decorated with Olive branches. I liked the first 4 courses of food – it was a creative mix of Greek Food with generous use of local ingredients like Coconut, Cinnamon & Tea. My main course was not as great but the non-vegetarians liked their’s a lot. The dessert was too sugary and I would call it George’s own words – Diabetes in a Glass. I enjoyed talking with my fellow diners as we had ample time between servings of two courses. The dinner lasted for three and a half hours – probably the longest dinner of my life.
My third rendezvous with George was at a masterclass followed by a formal lunch specially created by him and his team. The masterclass was fun and I got to see how they film the shows like MasterChef. George and Alex cooked a few easy dishes, of which I intend to attempt making the caramelized curd that tasted quite a bit like our Bengali Mishti Doi. Everything else being fish was out of bounds for me.
George Calombaris & MasterChef Australia
MasterChef Australia and its 3 judges are synonymous with each other, their identities are intertwined even when we seem them independently.
So, what did George tell us about MasterChef Australia? Here it is:
REAL is a favorite word for George. He uses it a lot. So if you ask him what is the secret recipe for MasterChef Australia success – the first word you would hear is – Real, it is a real show.
George says they pick up contestants on the basis of their dreams, aspirations and their cooking skills – in that order. They do not pick up personalities. All contestants are all authentic, real and mature people. In fact, he repeatedly said that they are all great cooks and a lot of them are already running their own restaurants.
Do you know there are 250 people working behind the scenes on MasterChef Australia?
Celebrity Chef believes it is a REAL show of integrity, belief, and delicious food. PS: It is a delight to see him speak about food with a series of delightful adjectives. It’s like listening to a section of the thesaurus with words that describe food.
George does not forget to mention the special relationship that the three judges of MasterChef Australia share. He fondly talks about his fellow judges Gary & Matt, acknowledging that it is their team that makes it a winning combination. I must say it takes a great leader to acknowledge others when the light is shining brightly on them.
In nutshell, he says that MasterChef Australia is a lot of little things done well.
FAQs with George Calombaris
Every event with him had a Q&A Session. Sharing some of the questions and answers that I liked:
Mantra for Success?
- Focus on what you do. Don’t bother about what others do. Do, what you do, well.
- Take your time, enjoy the journey, do not be in a hurry to reach the top.
- Keep Learning, Always!
- You are a product of your youth!
PS: I cannot agree more with him on this.
What does food mean to you?
Food for me is an integral way to express my creativity and lead an emotionally evocative life.
What can Master Chefs learn from home cooks?
The way home cooks cook with love and how they create flavors with love. Chefs sometimes get caught in the concept and lose the flavors.
What can home cooks learn from MasterChefs?
Being a Chef means being repetitive & spending long hours in the kitchen doing the same thing again and again. Be aware of that before you think of starting your own restaurant.
How should one enjoy fine dining?
Come to the restaurant with an open heart and mind & treat the food like you treat art in a gallery.
Best Equipment in the Kitchen?
Spoon – use it for tasting all the time!
What is Cooking?
Cooking is science. It is incredible how heat changes the food, how ingredients come together to create a great taste.
You do not allow your children to eat fast food?
My children know there is everyday food and there is sometimes food. Whole food is a religion. He narrated a story of blue zone sites like Ikaria in Greece where people stay healthy because they eat REAL food.
Favorite Asian Spice
Indian food he talks about the most?
Olive Oil. He narrated a beautiful story about his grandmother when she first migrated to Australia from Greece. Apparently, in those days, Olive oil was sold in Australia only at the medical stores in small bottles. Aussies used it for sore ears. His grandmother went every day to the pharmacy to pick up olive oil which obviously made the pharmacist suspicious. He could not believe she was using that oil to cook.
Interestingly, George said that it is a myth that beyond a certain temperature Olive Oil goes bad. It does not.
Butter or Margarine?
Always choose Butter – it’s REAL
Thank you, Cinnamon Hotels and Cinnamon Life, for giving me this incredible experience. I would cherish it for a long time to come. Cinnamon Life is envisioned as Colombo’s Life Capital, a city within the city of Colombo – an integrated resort catering to a wide audience with a variety of hospitality and entertainment. The project will consist of an 800 room luxury hotel, apartments, office spaces, retail mall and entertainment facilities among other world-class attractions. Designed by Cecil Balmond it intends to be the epicenter of modern South Asia.
To know more about George check out his uber cool website.