When he is not judging contestants for their culinary skills, MasterChef George Calombaris is busy experimenting in his kitchens in Melbourne.
In a quick tete-a-tete, the food entrepreneur dishes out a few secrets. Read on.
Television audiences here know George Calombaris as the utterly likeable MasterChef Australia judge, someone who's single-handedly responsible for acquainting us with the way to prepare an octopus and the joys of halloumi.
This time, however, George was in Bangalore wearing a different hat, as it were -- that of chef and restaurateur.
We chatted with him when he was in town to present a taste of his acclaimed Melbourne restaurant, The Press Club, a unique food show organised by Gold Rush.
Chef or TV celebrity?
"I'm very close to my kitchens," says George who runs nearly a dozen restaurants across segments in home town Melbourne.
These include the Press Club, the Press Club Projects -- an exclusive space for made-to-order dining experiences -- Hellenic Republic, Mastic Cafe, Gazi and a string of Jimmy Grants, which serve superb souvlaki, salads and sweets.
The Press Club which gets raves on review sites, for instance, has less than 15 dishes on the menu.
"Anything more becomes unmanageable and quality begins to suffer," says George.
What of people who cry 'need more choices?'
"You come to my restaurants wanting to be in my hands, don't you? It's like walking into any sort of store and asking for what's not on offer," he says.
Modern, not molecular
"Molecular gastronomy is a made-up word, which doesn't mean much," he says.
This may come as a surprise to those who've seen him create soils, jellies and foams in the MasterChef kitchen. But George has his fundamentals clear.
"I'm always learning, exploring new territory and trying to give a modern edge to my cooking, which is Greek-inspired," he says.
But dabbling in liquid nitrogen, just for the sake of it, is not his style.
George abhors processed, bleached, over-refined foods.
In fact, when his 4-year-old son James is invited to kids' parties at McDonald's he's given a packed lunch to carry.
"Would you give a child drugs and alcohol? Junk food is as bad," says George who's shed some 20 kilos in recent times, thank mainly to eating the right food.
George ate a medu vada at Airlines Hotel and couldn't stop raving about it.
"You have such variety and diversity in your food. It's all the more reason to eat 'real' food and shun the processed stuff passing off as convenience foods.
"I love Indian food, but not the Indian food that's available in Australia," he says.
"Young chefs here should stop wanting to be the next Rene Redzepi or Heston Blumenthal and dig deep into their culinary culture.
"They should then think of ways to take it to the next level.
Food as religion
"People follow different faiths.
"My religion is food. So, purity of ingredients, freshness, quality, integrity are things I cannot compromise on."
Images courtesy: George Calombaris' Facebook page