Chef, restaurateur, author and MasterChef Australia judge George Calombaris will grace Durban with his presence between 23 and 26 August on the second leg of the 2012 Good Food & Wine Show. TASTE's Annette Klinger caught up with the epicurean Aussie for a quick chat.
What do you have in store for South African foodies at this year’s Durban Good Food & Wine Show?
I would like to take people on my journey, give them an insight into the type of cook I am and how my life has influenced my food. And how I love to serve.
Have you been to South Africa before?
Yes, I was in South Africa for the World Cup in 2010. What an amazing place! It has the most amazing climate for cultivating grapes and making wine, and some amazing restaurants and chefs. Liam Tomlin is a perfect example of one of the world-class chefs working there. I’m really looking forward to being back.
What is one of your fondest food memories growing up?
Making fresh pasta at home for my family and seeing their reactions. There is nothing better than getting instant gratification. That’s why I love being a chef!
At the age of 24, you were awarded the title of Young Chef of the Year by The Age Good Food Guide and, since then, have received numerous other accolades. What do awards mean to you at this stage of your life?
I truly believe that you are as only as good as the last dish you've cooked. I'm proud of my achievements, but I never become complacent. They are great for my team and the people who support me. Without them, I am nothing.
You head up a whopping seven restaurants, including your award-winning flagship eatery, The Press Club, in Melbourne. How do you maintain the high standards of food and service at all of your restaurants?
I have amazing business partners who are also chefs and care about their venues like I do. It’s about sharing the pain and the glory, so when I'm not there, there is someone who has the same interest in the success of the restaurant.
Do you have a signature dish that diners should look out for?
No, I don’t. I’m constantly changing. I also don’t want my chefs to become complacent. I always like to keep the ball rolling and constantly challenge them and myself.
Most TASTE readers know you as one of the three judges on the popular MasterChef Australia. How has this TV role affected your career?
I'm very proud to be part of a show that has influenced people to love food and cooking. Yes, I'm now recognisable and people have higher expectations of me and my restaurants, but that’s fine, since we strive for perfection every day. However, it’s also important that people remember that we’re all human!
Who, in the industry, do you look up to?
Marco Pierre White. My very first cookbook was his White Heat, which I still love.
Where do you draw your culinary inspiration from?
Amazing colleagues like Heston Blumenthal and Massimo Bottura, life and its surroundings.
After a hard day’s work, what is your favourite comfort food ?
I love the simple things in life, like a toasted cheese sandwich washed down with an ice cold beer.
What does the future hold for you?
I dream when I'm awake. I’m not sure what I will dream today, but I always work hard to make my dreams come true. I do know one thing: I was born to be a cook and a chef, and I will die one.
Catch George at the Durban Good Food & Wine Show between the 23rd and 26th of August 2012 at the Durban Exhibition Centre.
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