George Calombaris Food for Thought

Want to know what foods George Calombaris can't live without? Read on to find out...

When you were a child, what was your favourite thing to eat?

My mother’s egg and lemon soup. It’s a traditional Greek soup called Avgolemono, and for me it’s very close to my heart because when you’re sick, tired and rundown it’s the thing that just makes you feel good. When my mum would make it for me I really understood how food can be like a medicine that can fix you. It just goes to show how important food is, not only from a social point of view but from a physical point of view, so yes for me it would have to be that. It’s nostalgic, it reminds me of my childhood, my mum, my family and growing up. So it’s really wonderful.

Describe what you would eat if you could choose your last supper

Everything that I’ve eaten so far… that’s so hard… it’s like me picking my children! I’ve been pretty lucky, I haven’t struggled at all. I’ve grown up in a family where food is a number one priority, I work in the food industry and done that professionally for the last 19 years. In that time I’ve gotten exposed to the most incredible meals and the most amazing chefs. It’s a tough one that one. I’ve been asked that one before and I’ve sat there scratching my head because I just can’t pick.

If you could only own one cookbook, which one would it be?

From my own personal cookbooks it would probably be my new one that I’m about to put out for the simple reason that it’s very emotional and its talks a lot about family and life and where I am at in my life. But if it wasn’t my cookbook it would have to be Marco Pierre White’s White Heat and I say that simply because it is the first cookbook I bought, and it’s a very emotional book for me. Having Marco on the show and becoming a very close friend of his means even more. I’ve picked up that book for the last 19 years, every year, to read it front to back. I say it all the time, cookbooks aren’t about recipes, they are about the chef’s story, understanding their beliefs, understanding the why, the how, the when. That for me means more than just a recipe. What the emotional story will give you is an incredible insight into that chef’s beliefs and ideas. I cook because I want to emotionally express to others who I am. So I guess they would be the two.

What three things do you always have in your pantry? 

In my pantry I always have extra virgin olive oil, a good quality sea salt, always peanut butter. Just the go-to things. I eat and cook with olive oil all the time, sea salt I love, it just extracts the flavour from food and peanut butter because I just love it.

Are you a ‘crunchy’ or a ‘smooth’ peanut butter lover? 

CRUNCHY! All the way.

Your friends are coming over in 30 minutes- what do you cook for them?

There’s always something in the freezer, there is always something in the fridge. It could be mum’s made a big batch of Spanakopita, which is like a spinach pie with filo pastry and fetta. There’s always a couple of trays of that in the freezer, pull that out, pop it in the oven til golden brown and serve with a simple salad. A salad is more than just leave these days; I boil up some lentils, I’ve got some toasted almonds, some currants, parsley, fine dice some red onion, boil up a cup of quinoa, and some fresh yoghurt and that’s a delicious tasty salad. With wholefood you got to keep it real, that’s the way I look at it.

What food(s) can’t you live without?

I can’t live without the staples of cookery, which are butter for example, olive oils, good salts, good wholemeal flours, and interesting flours, cream, full cream milk. It’s about the good quality basics. I can’t live without lemon, and vinegar. All very simple, but the stuff that gives food its ‘yummy-ness.’

What has been your most memorable meal?

Apart from ones at home with my family, there’s always emotion. It doesn’t matter if we are just breaking bread with olive oil, it’s emotional, it’s beautiful. But on the other side of that I think of dinner at the Fat Duck with [fellow MasterChef Australia judges] Matt and Gary was an emotional day. It was six hours of lunch, it was amazing, with two of my great mates who are foodies. I also think about a dinner that I had at a two star restaurant in Vienne, south of Leon, called La Pyramide. It was very emotional for me because it meant a lot in terms of cuisine; a lot of classic dishes come from this restaurant, they were born in this restaurant. I think about eating at a little tavern in Mykonos that I call Kiki’s - they have no gas and no electricity, they just use a barbeque! Totally different spectrums but all of them beautiful, powerful and memorable. I think that’s what food needs to be: it’s about creating memories.

What’s your favourite comfort food?

From a naughty point of view, I really love a ham and pineapple pizza. I really do, it’s my guilty pleasure. But from a comforting point of view I look at food at home being really simple. A bowl of simply cooked pasta with ricotta, olive oil and parmesan and cracked pepper is incredible. It’s cheap, but it’s so delicious. People whinge to me about the things they can’t afford, but there’s a lot of ‘peasant’ food out there that is so rich in goodness and flavour, it can be really simple.