Whether you’ve eaten at one of his restaurants or not, George Calombaris has become a household name. The talented chef has won numerous awards, is the proud owner of The Press Club, Gazi, Hellenic Republic, Mastic and Jimmy Grant’s, a judge on MasterChef Australia, and author of a number of cookbooks, the most recent titled Greek.
CONGRATULATIONS ON THE RECENT RELEASE OF GREEK ! WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE COOKBOOK?
Thank you! There are 100 recipes over 10 chapters, each chapter focusing on a different aspect of all things Greek. The title is Greek, so people automatically think it must have a blue-and-white cover – it doesn’t. They think there must be moussaka in there – there isn’t. It’s my ‘Aussiefied’ Hellenic cuisine, which is what I do. It’s all achievable food; I want people to be able to cook it at home. There is nothing Press Club-style in there at all. My mum contributed a chapter too – there are 10 recipes in there from her – as well as a lot of recipes that have nostalgia behind them. This book really means a lot to me.
YOUR MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER ARE TWO OF YOUR BIGGEST CULINARY INFLUENCES. WHAT ABOUT THEM INSPIRED YOU?
They didn’t really teach me how to cook – we were never really allowed to be in the kitchen with them. What they did teach us was the power of what food could do to people, which is often forgotten by chefs because our ego tries to outweigh us or drive us to be clever. The other thing my grandmother taught me was seasonality. You could blindfold me and give me zero sense of time, and I could tell you what part of the year it was through the aromas emanating from my grandmother’s kitchen.
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP YOUR FOOD PHILOSOPHY?
I think food for me needs to not just nourish you, but also fill you with happiness and joy. That’s really all I think about, whether it’s something we’re putting on the menu at Jimmy Grant’s right up to The Press Club and everything else in between. It gives you a feeling. Often you hear people say, ‘I’m all about local food’. Well, that’s great, but we should just be doing that regardless. You go to a restaurant and you should have clean cutlery. You should have a napkin. Those things should just happen. Your food philosophy shouldn’t be that you’re sustainable – you don’t need to go talking about it, you should just do it. Our philosophy should be our beliefs, and that’s really important to me.
YOU’VE EARNED A NUMBER OF AWARDS AND ACCOLADES THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER AS A CHEF. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
That’s a tough one, because there have been lots. Right through from my apprenticeship to representing Australia in the Bocuse d’Or in 2003. I will never forget the feeling. The opening of the Press Club nine years ago, my first restaurant, was obviously a huge achievement for me. And every restaurant after that! They are all milestones. Now I get excited seeing my head chefs achieving things – it’s their awards now. For me it’s this collective success at the moment that I am enjoying and that I love. MasterChef as well – to be given that opportunity and to see its success not only in Australia but around the world is something that blows me away.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE CULINARY EXPERIENCE?
There are so many. I think of sitting in the most incredible little tavern in Greece, no gas, no electricity, just a guy barbecuing meat served with salad. It was just this moment when I thought, ‘Can food be this good?’ On the flip side, I think of when I did the Bocuse d’Or, and I used a kitchen in this two-star called La Pyramide, and on the last night they cooked for me and I just had goosebumps. But then, sitting at home eating Mum’s avgolemono (egg and lemon soup) can be just as good! There is nothing worse than bad food.
YOU’VE TAKEN THE MELBOURNE FOOD SCENE BY STORM WITH THE PRESS CLUB, HELLENIC REPUBLIC, GAZI, JIMMY GRANTS AND MASTIC. WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU?
We’ll be opening in Sydney soon! I was being probed about bringing something to Brisbane – well, after Sydney, where are we going to go next?