Everybody’s favourite MasterChef Australia Chef George Calombaris speaks to us at the American Express CEO Series 2017 dinner recently held at The Roseate House, New Delhi, as he tells us about his love for Greek cooking, and his favourite inflight meals
What was your concept behind the American Express CEO Series 2017 dinner at The Roseate House, New Delhi?
As a chef, my goal is to create food experience that makes people happy. The menu that we designed for American Express CEO Series 2017 drew inspiration from my homeland Greece and my work land, Australia. India has always amazed me with its flavours, dishes and delicacies. The food at the event reflects my personal take on how to blend these three amazing cultures, keeping their essence. Greece and India draw so many similarities in terms of its people, culture and there is a sense of belonging in both the cultures.
Did you import any ingredients?
We imported beetroot powder, black garlic sauce, dashi, aleppo pepper, bottarga, Gazi togarashi and mastic essence from Australia.
How did you like cooking with Indian ingredients? Your favourite Indian spice?
Indian spices are unique; they have their own flavour which keeps the dish alive. A spiced driven dish put in the right way will be seen in Indian dishes only. Indian cuisines have so many layers, specially regional food. My favourite Indian spice is mace.
The poached chicken with the Hellenic salad; is this your mum’s recipe?
I was born and bred in Australia; but my background is Greek. I’ve grown up on Greek food and now I cook it in all of my restaurants. True, this recipe has a connect with my mum’s cooking. She cooks with a sense of valour, without a recipe.
What is your relationship with Chef Gary Mehigan, at MasterChef Australia?
Gary and Matt are dear buddies. We get along really well and it’s more than friendship; we are sort of brothers. Not many people know this but Gary gave me my first job and the three of us get along really well. Gary is an amazing person and a wonderful chef, and Matt is one of the best food critic and food journalists on earth. These guys literally know their food. The three of us and our families adore each other.
What are fine dining trends today, and how does your restaurant Hellenic Republic, cater to this?
Formal fine dining has off late taken a backseat to more casual fare; the all-day destination makes more sense. You have to be able to provide a diverse range of experiences. Hellenic Republic’s menu provides comfort food for jet-setting executives that they can enjoy with their families, friends or even by themselves.
As ambassador for Qatar Airways, what is the right cuisine when one flies?
I’ve teamed with Qatar Airways to develop an in-flight menu. Passengers flying first and business class from Melbourne and Doha between 1 July and 30 September got to experience the Greek-inspired dishes on the way to their next destination. Among dishes featured on the menu were Gazi’s lamb moussaka and souvlaki of pastourma beef short rib, the Hellenic grain salad with tahini yoghurt, and the signature Hellenic Republic risogalo (rice pudding) made with Murray River salted caramel. Dishes with lean protein with some (non-gassy) vegetables on the side are definitely preferred on flights.
With your new restaurant Jimmy Grants in Sydney, what are you offering?
Jimmy Grants is opening on October 18th this year and I am thrilled about it. The restaurant takes inspiration from Australia’s immigrant culture. Jimmy Grants’ signature Greek souva, Mr Papadopoulos, includes slow-roasted lamb, mustard aioli, chips, onions and parsley. The menu also features share plates with a choice of lamb or chicken, fresh salads and grains alongside a selection of mouth-watering desserts.
What’s next for you?
I am looking forward to the 10th season of MasterChef Australia and meeting the young, bright and very talented contestants, tasting new dishes and having a great time with my pals, Gary and Matt.