Successfully reported this slideshow.
Entrepreneurship                                                                                                          ...
Its an example of the audacity that made him the wunderkind of the Melbourne culinary scene at 24, winningthe 2004 Age Goo...
"Nigella Lawson? My mates love watching her, but I know what theyre watching her for. Thats food porn.Licking the spoon, h...
He had never been game to open the envelope containing what was then known as his tertiary entrance rankfrom 1996. He surp...
Hes continued to branch out with Maha, where he and Shane Delia put a similar contemporary spin on MiddleEastern food, and...
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5
×

The kitchen god's life

311 views

Published on

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

The kitchen god's life

  1. 1. Entrepreneurship Ref: 0004 The kitchen gods life By Gary Tippet th March 8 2009 George Calombaris in his element at The Press Club: "That word passion is overused, but I was always around food and I was passionate, obsessed about it." Photo: Craig SillitoeCELEBRITY chef: what once seemed a contradiction in terms is now an overcooked phenomenon with a worldwideroster of breathy, breasty poster girls and pukka pretty-boys.While no one could deny that one of Melbournes top cooks, George Calombaris, has the chops to merit theappellation, right now he seems determined to disavow any notion that he might be dished up as Our GordonRamsay.Hes talking tofu: that slippery, slightly slimy slab of off-white soy-based something or other. (You suspect Ramsayhas a word for the stuff — and we all know what that word is.)Calombaris admits he rarely went near bean curd until recently, but now hes like an unwatched pot, bubbling overwith enthusiasm for it. After a week of experimentation, hes put it on the new menu at his flagship restaurant, ThePress Club, as an entree: scrambled with feta, chicken liver parfait and bits of chocolate and olive-oil toast.An almost unrecognisable version of a simple egg-and-feta dish his mother used to make, it is another wild riff thatCalombaris plays off the traditional cuisine of his Greek-Cypriot parents. For further information on this article and the coaching programs available please contact: Image Group International Asia Pacific Head Office Tel: (+61 3) 9820 4449 E: info@imagegroup.com.au W: www.imagegroup.com.au ©2009
  2. 2. Its an example of the audacity that made him the wunderkind of the Melbourne culinary scene at 24, winningthe 2004 Age Good Food Guide young chef of the year award for his molecular gastronomy inventions at thenow-defunct Reserve.Its also a mark of the ambition that six years later has him creating a restaurant empire — his word — withthree booming establishments in Melbourne and another on Mykonos, Greece. And its the reason Calombariswas an obvious choice for Australias most ambitious cooking-based reality show, MasterChef, starting soonon Channel Ten.With two co-panellists, chef Gary Mehigan and Age food critic Matt Preston, Calombaris will be attempting topluck a budding Neil Perry or Shannon Bennett from the ranks of the countrys amateur cooks. But hesalready had to slap a little sense into a selection who know who theyd rather be — "celebrity chef"."Its a problem — even for young chefs who are in the game," he says. "They all want to be Jamie Oliver orCurtis Stone. I tell them its not going to happen, its all about graft, hard work and long, unfriendly hours."(Calombaris admits the hours and his single-minded obsession with food have helped cost him a marriage."Its a hard industry to have a personal life," he says, then slips into a Ramsay moment: "Its not for the f---infaint-hearted.")He says there are two types of celebrity chef. The first are celebrated simply for being on TV, the rest for theircuisine and their dedication.Hed rather be among the latter — adding the choice might not be his alone, given he has a face better suitedto radio and a belly thats testament to his love of food."People are saying, Youll be Australias Gordon Ramsay. Im not Gordon Ramsay and Im never going to beGordon Ramsay. The f-word does get dropped occasionally, but Im like, Woops George, whyd you say that?"In fact, Calombaris knows and likes the gutter-mouthed Brit and lists him as one of the few celebrity chefs helikes. "I do admire Gordon — not his personal life, but I definitely admire his professional life," he says. "Hisempire is strong, he grafts and works hard at creating key people and putting them in his restaurants."He also respects Rick Stein, and Anthony Bourdain for "his theory of food (and that) he gets in there dirty withthe real McCoy stuff. He looks for substance."And the others? "No disrespect to Curtis Stone, hes a handsome boy, gets around Australia with a surfboardand he cooks a bit. And hes massive in America, a rock star over there. But I dont want to be that. For further information on this article and the coaching programs available please contact: Image Group International Asia Pacific Head Office Tel: (+61 3) 9820 4449 E: info@imagegroup.com.au W: www.imagegroup.com.au ©2009
  3. 3. "Nigella Lawson? My mates love watching her, but I know what theyre watching her for. Thats food porn.Licking the spoon, her handbag on her shoulder mixing a quick cake, thats bullshit. Im not interested. Its notme."Nonetheless, there are those who reckon Ten may have unearthed an unlikely "star" in the elfin, mile-a-minute-talking Calombaris, despite a sometimes "worrying" dress sense that can run to powder blue safarijackets. "He has a warmth … and a quirky way of looking at food that is both funny and surprisingly evocative,"says Preston.Calombaris books and his earlier TV work on the daytime show Ready Steady Cook have become a rallyingpoint for Greek and Cypriot pride in their food, says someone active in the Melbourne food scene. "Its funny tohave an elderly Greek come up to Georgie, my boy and want to pinch his cheeks, but it makes you realisethey see him as part of the family."Rather than Gordon Ramsay, he is closer to Ang Christou — the footballer everyone loved to woof!"ACLEAN-LIVING Greek boy. Thats how Preston sums up Calombaris. The Melbourne restaurant worldsBjork, gushed a 2005 review, saying he was famous for experimental work that wowed the critics but made thepunters nervous. The truth lies somewhere in between.Calombaris is the son of a Greek-Egyptian father and a Greek-Cypriot mother who came to Australia in themid-1950s. Mary and Jim Calombaris met, married and ran a supermarket in Mulgrave. Calombaris shared hisfathers work ethic and by eight was sweeping up and scraping the weekly special displays from thesupermarket windows.As a teenager, he worked weekends in a Burwood pasta joint. The food was pretty pedestrian, he admits now,but while he was scrubbing pots and pans he was looking with envy at the cooks: "It gave me the hunger forcooking. All I wanted to do was jump on to the stoves with those guys."Hed fallen in love with food and cooking before he was 10, watching TV cookery shows and his mother in thekitchen. "I was always at Mums apron strings," he says. "I think the old man was a bit worried about me." By15, he was determined to become a chef.Which was good because he was a terrible student. "The old man was always banging me in the head saying,Concentrate, think, but that was always my downfall. I was too ignorant and arrogant about study, moreinterested in living life and having fun."Calombaris knew hed done badly in year 12 at Mazenod College, but it wasnt until he was asked to give an"inspirational speech" to the winners of the Premiers 2003 VCE awards that he realised how badly. For further information on this article and the coaching programs available please contact: Image Group International Asia Pacific Head Office Tel: (+61 3) 9820 4449 E: info@imagegroup.com.au W: www.imagegroup.com.au ©2009
  4. 4. He had never been game to open the envelope containing what was then known as his tertiary entrance rankfrom 1996. He surprised the kids, and perhaps even himself, by revealing a measly 17 out of a possible 99.95.Luckily, hed gone straight from school to an apprenticeship at the Sofitel under executive chef RaymondCapaldi. During holidays, he competed in cooking competitions. "Ive got my fathers passion, which is to takelife by the horns. Lifes too short to sleep," he says. After qualifying in 1999, Calombaris moved to CapaldisFenix and was promoted to head chef within a year.In 2003, he represented Australia at the prestigious Bocuse dOr cooking competition in Lyon, France. Hecame 16th, but returned with another prize. He had met idols including Paul Bocuse, but also the SpaniardFerran Adria, originator of molecular gastronomy. At Reserve, where he had been offered his first head chefgig, Calombaris threw himself into what then Age food critic John Lethlean described as the Spanish madscientist school of cookery.Foams; spiced venison carpaccio served with a potato crisp full of raspberry ice-cream; tagliatelle made fromstock jellies; cauliflower "couscous"; tuna paired with banana; black olive sorbets; and crab-and-chocolatecake. It was brave and confrontational and critically celebrated, earning him his young chef of the year gong,but ultimately doomed. Reserve closed early in 2005 and, according to Lethlean, Calombaris "lost his venue ina world of conformity".He has no complaints. Because of limited population and perhaps food "education", the experimentation atReserve was before Melbournes time, says Calombaris. "Australias only a young country in food terms. Itsonly in the past 10 years that people can actually spell prosciutto, or know the difference between a dodgyKraft slice and a beautiful, imported Quickes cheddar."At the Press Club, he says, "We havent stopped using those techniques, but weve juxtaposed it with reality.At the end of the day, people want wholesome food, food they can relate to, something with substance."In the time since Reserve, he says, he has also learned humility and balance. "When I was at Reserve, I wasthe ignorant, arrogant young chef of the year, you know: This is my food, youre going to eat it. Im older now,a lot more educated and I actually listen to what the customers got to say. And care about it."Ive always loved food. That word passion is overused, but I was always around food and I was passionate,obsessed about it. Ive got an obsession to eat and taste and to put something on a plate. Its clipping theticket twice. You create it and feel great about it, but then you serve it to a customer and you want to see theylove it."In 2007, Calombaris took out the Age Good Food Guide quinella: chef of the year and best new restaurant. For further information on this article and the coaching programs available please contact: Image Group International Asia Pacific Head Office Tel: (+61 3) 9820 4449 E: info@imagegroup.com.au W: www.imagegroup.com.au ©2009
  5. 5. Hes continued to branch out with Maha, where he and Shane Delia put a similar contemporary spin on MiddleEastern food, and more recently at Hellenic Republic in East Brunswick, his "Jetstar version" of The PressClub."We opened up 2½ months ago in the midst of economic crisis and its doing 300 covers every night," he says."Its crazy, its not right, but I think its because weve worked hard at maintaining my brand.""Brand" is important in the new world of celebrity chefing and the new show can only build the Calombarisbrand. But not his ego, he asserts."The old man wont let it happen. When I told him Id got the (MasterChef) gig, he says, Whens it on? and Isaid six nights a week, prime time. He goes, Hmmm, OK — but dont you get a big head, cos you know Illchop it right off. " For further information on this article and the coaching programs available please contact: Image Group International Asia Pacific Head Office Tel: (+61 3) 9820 4449 E: info@imagegroup.com.au W: www.imagegroup.com.au ©2009

×