I didn’t rate Nigella

Ge­orge Calom­baris whips up a con­tro­ver­sial MasterChef ver­dict

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - EDI­TOR Tif­fany Dunk RE­VIEWS Tif­fany Dunk, Colin Vick­ery, An­drew Fen­ton, Neala John­son, Leigh Paatsch, Shan­non Mol­loy, Cameron Adams COVER MasterChef Aus­tralia’s Ge­orge Calom­baris COVER DE­SIGN Naomi Sch­midt AD­VER­TIS­ING Ryan Kin­cade (03) 6330 0494, ryan.kin

GE­ORGE Calom­baris has a con­fes­sion to make. The renowned chef, restau­ra­teur and MasterChef Aus­tralia judge has been guilty of dis­miss­ing Nigella Law­son.

Calom­baris reck­ons he has been in­dulging in a bit of food snob­bery as far as Law­son is con­cerned – and now he has to eat hum­ble pie.

Law­son ap­peared in a sin­gle episode of Ten’s cook­ing show in 2011. This year the world-fa­mous “do­mes­tic god­dess” is back for a whole “Nigella Week”.

Law­son has a string of hit TV shows and best-sell­ing cook books in­clud­ing Nigella Bites and Nigella Ex­press. She has over­seen lunch for the likes of Tony Blair and Ge­orge Bush Sr.

But un­til now, that didn’t cut the mus­tard with Calom­baris. He’s a qual­i­fied chef, Law­son a home cook, and never the twain shall meet.

“What MasterChef Aus­tralia has taught me to do is not be so nar­row-minded in all my thoughts,” Calom­baris says.

“Just be­cause this per­son is a home cook doesn’t mean she doesn’t know any­thing about food. In the past I would have thought that about Nigella.

“I lit­er­ally fell in love with this lady be­cause of her hu­mil­ity. She doesn’t pro­claim to be a chef. What she loves is great food and tasty food. I went away go­ing, ‘Gee Ge­orge, some­times you’ve got to slap your­self’.”

Law­son spent nearly a fort­night in Aus­tralia dur­ing her re­cent visit for MasterChef and not only won over Calom­baris but she wowed his whole fam­ily.

“We fin­ished film­ing on a Thurs­day and on the Fri­day I took her to a Mel­bourne Vic­tory (soc­cer) game,” Calom­baris re­calls.

“As a pass­ing com­ment she said, ‘I’m look­ing for­ward to a home­cooked meal’. I think I’d had a few glasses of wine and said, ‘Just come over on Sun­day to our house and we’ll cook’ and she said yes.

“I didn’t think about it (any more) and then on Sun­day I got a text mes­sage say­ing, ‘What would you like us to bring?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, s---’.

“It was fine. I cooked some food. She and Natalie, my part­ner, got along re­ally well. We were stand­ing at the bench and I was mix­ing

some­thing in a bowl and Nigella said, ‘Oh that is so beau­ti­ful’.

“I asked, ‘What the salad?’ and she said, ‘No, you’re us­ing one of my bowls’. She is just a re­ally won­der­ful hu­man be­ing.”

This year’s MasterChef Aus­tralia is a star-stud­ded af­fair. As well as Law­son, there are weeks de­voted to He­ston Blu­men­thal and Marco Pierre White.

“It makes me feel warm and fuzzy know­ing that these chefs want to be part of this cook­ing show,” Calom­baris says. “Do we see them go­ing on other cook­ing shows? No.”

This is Blu­men­thal’s sev­enth ap­pear­ance on MasterChef Aus­tralia. Last year Blu­men­thal caused a sen­sa­tion when he brought The Fat Duck restau­rant to Aus­tralia for six months.

About 15,000 diners ex­pe­ri­enced Blu­men­thal’s 16-course mul­ti­sen­sory menu.

“The guy is a freak when it comes to this idea called food,” Calom­baris says. “What he knows I’ll never know. He is the one that is push­ing the en­ve­lope and tak­ing us to other places.

“On the flip side, I’ve seen him sit­ting at my house eat­ing a schnitzel and cov­er­ing it with may­on­naise and bar­be­cue sauce.”

White is an­other long-time mem­ber of the MasterChef Aus­tralia fam­ily. He even hosted his own spinoff, MasterChef Pro­fes­sion­als.

The 54-year-old’s White Heat cook book in­flu­enced a generation of chefs. White trained Gor­don Ram­say, Cur­tis Stone and Shan­non Ben­nett.

“He is the guy I idolised when I started cook­ing 20 years ago

and noth­ing’s changed,” Calom­baris says.

“He is one of the only chefs that will ring me once a fort­night to ask how I am and how the fam­ily is.

“He has a God­fa­ther-like pres­ence. He makes the con­tes­tants lift. He even makes us (Calom­baris and fel­low judges Matt Pre­ston and Gary Me­hi­gan) lift.”

The ic­ing on the cake this year is the re­turn of Mary, Calom­baris’ mother. Mary ap­peared on a Greek Pres­sure Test Chal­lenge and came back for a moussaka master class in the 2011 sea­son.

“My mother and I have got the most in­ter­est­ing re­la­tion­ship,” Calom­baris says. “I think be­cause we’re very sim­i­lar we ar­gue like cat and dog.

“My fa­ther, Jim, is the rea­son­ing voice (in the mid­dle). I love the fact that my mum is on the show again. The in­spi­ra­tion she gave me and the gen­eros­ity she taught me for food and to serve peo­ple – you can’t learn that in school.

“The day she filmed, a lot of the con­tes­tants had tears in their eyes. I love that. If you can take any­thing away from (Mary) it is that emo­tional con­nec­tion.”


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