The cook and the chef
Fatherhood plants George Calombaris' feet firmly on the ground
George Calombaris has a disclaimer at the bottom of all his menus at Hellenic Republic that states the food served there will never be as good as your mother's. And it's not because he doubts his cooking abilities, it's more the case that the love, the flavours, the familiar scent of your mother's moussaka just can't be replicated... ever. And it's not his intention to try and recreate your mum's food; but it is to inspire you to do something about it.
"If there is any statement I can make to any Greek Australian it would be not to take for granted the things your parents do for you." For the self-confessed chef and cook, these 'things' are always about food.
The 33-year-old's love of food and the kitchen began from an early age. Having a father born in Egypt to a Greek father and Italian mother, and a Greek-Cypriot mother, foods like hummus, koupes, pasta with fresh ricotta, falafel and moussaka were staples on the Calombaris table.
It's precisely these memories and experiences that he takes with him to create his six successful Melbourne restaurants - and the one in Mykonos. He calls them "reflections of something or somewhere in his life", which he confesses has only just begun.
And inspirations this chef finds everywhere, but nowhere more so than the Hellenic Republic.
Although he is a proud and passionate Australian, George says there is something he feels about his Greek heritage when visiting the country.
"When that plane lands in Venizelos I get this electricity through my veins, it's like I am here!," he says with warmth in his voice.
He describes his Greece as hidden and Athens as his playground.
"Just under the butchers market, I think about the little place that does one katsarola - that's all he cooks every day. And you go in there you get whatever is in the katsarola and a piece of bread and you're done."
He visits Greece each year to get inspired, to get rejuvenated and when he returns to Australia, he passes on that knowledge and that spark to all around him.
Travis McAuley, head chef and partner at Hellenic Republic, is one of those people. They visit Greece together each year to uncover culinary gems to give to Australian diners.
"That Aussie boy knows more about Greek food than what Greeks do because he is passionate about it," says George about the chef he has worked with for eight years. McAuley will at times even surprise George's mother with tips on Greek cooking.
"It makes me feel so warm knowing that I threw that log on his fire by showing him this passion. That for me means everything."
This ability, to inspire through his manic love of all things food, is one of the reasons he was selected as a judge on the hit television show MasterChef Australia.
Now in its fourth year, the show's own winning recipe for success comes down to "honesty" and showcasing people's dreams for all to see, George believes.
"These people are making big decisions, drastic decisions. Some people were a couple of weeks away from graduating from their Masters for physiotherapy and suddenly dropping that all because they made it on MasterChef (Australia) and they want to change their life and make it in food - that's real, there is no joking around there."
This year, George says the show will be going back to basics, keeping it simple and really hone in on who the people are and focus on the multicultural and diverse foods of Australia. But more than anything,. to celebrate the good home cook.
"My mother is a perfect example of this as everything she does is the ultimate to her - its life or death [when she cooks] and it's got to be right. That's the same for these contestants."
Along with judges chef Gary Mehigan and food critic Matt Preston, these three lads have become the unlikely heroes as they mentor contestants through their MasterChef adventure and grant them culinary secrets. But as a judge, George says he has one point of difference over the other two - his Greek background.
"All a Greek needs is a table and two chairs and they can talk for hours," he says.
"I can sit there and listen to the contestants and offer them advice and just be 'real' with them."
He has taken this approach to the kitchens of all his restaurants, inspiring and motivating the 330 employees, and using it to fuel his cookbooks to resonate with amateur cooks around Australia.
But this 'realness' is most vibrant as it is when he speaks about his nine-month-old son James.
Unlike his frenzied personality we've come to know, there is a definite calm in his voice right now. Don't get me wrong, he is still as enthusiastic as ever, he still over annunciates words when he gets excited, you can still feel him bouncing on the balls of his feet as he is talking down the phone.
Yet this is a different George we are speaking to a year on; a composed George; a settled George; a father George.
We get on the subject of his new son, James, and you can hear how having a child has completed him somewhat. When George mentions him for the first time, his voice slows and he addresses him with his full name, Dimitri - his father's name.
"Dimitri is just absolutely beautiful," he gushes, "crawling around like a lunatic and he's eating solids now so it's exciting."
George is lapping up fatherhood and it suits him. Watching his son change week-to-week isn't the only thing inspiring him - it's watching the changes in his father that has given them both a new lease on life.
"I have just given my dad another ten years on his life - he's youthful again," explains George.
- Register Now
- Golden Dawn's Australian aspirations uncovered
- More Greeks calling Australia home
- Paedophilia charge for Greek Australian
- Greek Adelaide church in hot water again
- Sixth place for Alcohol is Free
- AFP show support for Cyprus
- Do it like the Greeks says German consul
- Fans make the Wanderers a good investment
- Man sues Qatar over drinks car accident
- Marxist reporter won praise for his work
- 8 May 2013 | 12 Votes
- 15 May 2013 | 9 Votes
- 8 May 2013 | 8 Votes
- 3 May 2013 | 8 Votes
- 13 May 2013 | 7 Votes
- 30 Apr 2013 | 6 Votes
The conclusion of the A1 basketball league’s regular season saw the relegation of Peristeri to the A2 after a dramatic battle with Ilisiakos
The wreath laying service and the ceremony to commemorate the Battle of Crete, will be held at the Cenotaph at Martin Place Saturday 18 May, at 1:45 pm
With a shot of espresso, this coffee cake is the perfect afternoon pick me up
The government will have to complete certain structural reforms before the second tranche is released
Technical terminology is okay if it provides shorthand for complex ideas, explains Mark Bouris
Immigration Minister says negotiations continue for the long-awaited Working Holiday Visa
Internet based sister classes connect Greek classrooms to Australian ones in a way to collaboratively learn the language
Known as Heracleion to the ancient Greeks the town lies 9 meters down the Mediterranean ocean
Miron Bleiberg steps in as interim coach, following the departure of the 'club boy' Bill Theodoropoulos
The ring is said to have transported hundreds of kilos of cannabis from Albania to Western Europe
A Greek Australian part of the trucking company at the centre of the alleged fraud, Viking Group, was involved in the 'severe bashing'.
Greek shipowners have chosen Chinese shipyards for the construction of at least 60 percent of the new vessels ordered in the last few years.
"Some kids get their parents' jewellery or record collections as hand-me-downs. Mum gave me this name." Melon Fouraki
NSW parliament "condemns the genocides of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks, and all other acts of genocide as the ultimate act of intolerance"
Star players like Del Piero, Ono and Rojas all made the fan pick, but many could be poached to play for the Socceroos in the East Asian Cup finals
PM prepares for China trip as Finance Minister Stournaras says much work still to do despite IMF’s adjustment praise
Bank of Sydney customers and guests gathered last week to launch their new Marrickville branch.
Moyne mayor Jim Doukas says the State government has unfairly dumped permit approval on Councils