Ahead of Taste of Auckland, we catch up with MasterChef Australia judge and renowned food personality, George Calombaris, to talk Kiwi chefs, starting out and how the industry is changing.
Most, if not all of you, would recognise chef George Calombaris in one way or another.
If not from his fiery, passionate television persona or his distinctive commentary, chances are you've dined at one of his well-established Melbourne based restaurants, or enjoyed the cuisine by a local chef heavily influenced by George's style.
Ahead of his Taste of Auckland in partnership with Electrolux appearance next month, we catch up with the spirited Aussie food personality and accomplished chef, to learn why cooking for David Beckham or Greek royalty doesn't come close to cooking for family.
On teaming up with Taste of Auckland... "To tell you the truth, many opportunities have come up that allow me to go outside Australia, and share my food knowledge with New Zealanders – it's really very humbling. I'm really excited, I'm cooking two dishes that I think bring a bit of my style to it, while respecting the terroir, the land. It's an opportunity for me to come to Auckland and cook my kind of food.
I always say, Kiwi chefs have no excuse not to be great chefs – you have some of the greatest meat, produces and without a doubt – incredible seafood, available to you."
On the New Zealand restaurant industry... "One of my best mates is a guy called Ben Bayly – he's one of the nicest, most talented guys you'll meet. He's a brilliant Kiwi chef and I've had some great meals with him."
On starting out as a chef... "I could be but I’m not going to be all romantic about it. You know, my mum's apron strings and all that. The truth is, I've never shied away from hard work and the craft. For me, it's been an incredible 21 years. My career has been filled with incredible highs and interesting lows, but I wouldn't change a thing."
On the MasterChef experience... "I first wanted to become a chef, and I never wanted to be a TV chef. I think I set myself a series of goals, starting out, I wanted to do a bakery, open a series of restaurants, and while I certainly don't know everything, I'm confident with what I do know. if you threw 100 John Dory at me, I could pretty much fillet them all with my eyes closed.
A craft is something you learn through reputation, and I believe that. It's been an incredible experience, working with the MasterChef boys, it's about the people. I don’t feel like a fraud for being on TV. My advice for people looking to get in to (chefing and television) is get out there and get the experience you need – Djokovic didn't get there by hitting a few tennis balls, here and there – it takes hard work and dedication to your craft."
On the ethos of the show... "When I think about the people that make the show happen – the producers, the staff, the judges, the contestants, there's one thing that stands out – we have amazing people surrounding the show. It's such a great mix and group of talented people, that's why we love it.
Making TV is very different to working in my kitchen, there are some people out there that can do it all – look at Gary Mehigan – not only is a great chef, he's very good at talking, at explaining himself. He's great on camera, because he has that natural ability. Whereas me, I struggle with scripts. But I’m very comfortable now, after 10 years with the boys."
On how to nurture young chefs... "Honestly, if something’s not right in the kitchen, I'll say it, but it's about the food and the job that we're doing. That’s the worst thing you can do as human beings, is get personal. Try focus, if you’ve cut the snapper wrong… you’ve cut it wrong. For me, right now, I have about 450 staff – I'm not going to hold back, but I look after the people around me."
On his favourite person to cook for... "Family. Family always comes first. If your family come in to the restaurant, there's something very special. I've cooked for some incredible people, we had the Prince and Princess of Greece come in not too long ago, and that's great. David Beckham, another guest that's dined with us. But truly... nothing compares to cooking for your family."
On his love of food, in three simple words... "It's. My. Life. It doesn’t matter if you have the best of everything, it’s the people that really make a kitchen. I walk into The Press Club, that's how I feel. It’s my life – I wake up every morning to do this job. I love it, it’s my life."
Bringing a taste of his highly-regarded Melbourne restaurant The Press Club to Auckland, fans can catch George in action during his two live cooking demonstrations in the Electrolux Taste Theatre on Saturday, November 19 and during the festival's opening night.
Taste of Auckland in partnership with Electrolux, Thursday November 16 – Sunday, November 19, Western Springs, Auckland. To learn more about Taste of Auckland or to secure your tickets for this year's event, see their website right here.