Chef Greg Malouf on his journey to the top of the game.
Restaurateur, author and trendsetter, chef Greg Malouf tells Mrinal Shekar that evolution is not a bad word after all
I n almost every interview, chef Greg Malouf calls his food architectural. An odd adjective you think, as he doesn’t come across as experimental. He looks more like the portly grandfather next door whose interest in cooking is limited to firing up the barbecue at the weekend.
But Greg knows what he’s talking about. In a career spanning three decades, this Australian chef of Lebanese descent has created a repertoire of Middle Eastern dishes.
“When I say my food is architectural, what I mean is that it is a skyscraper of complex flavours and varied textures,” he says. “Although I think it’s important to stay true to the heritage or tradition of a dish, I’m not afraid of interpreting it in a more nuanced or layered way, or of presenting it in a way that I find aesthetically pleasing.”
A bold statement, considering it’s only recently that the region’s culinary masterminds have begun to accept change. “When I first started translating Middle Eastern classics into a contemporary dining experience, it was considered almost heretical by traditional cooks – especially in the Middle East,” says Greg. “I could never have cooked that way in Lebanon, my home country, for instance. Even my mum couldn’t understand why I’d want to ‘mess with tradition’.”
In an exclusive interview with Friday, 55-year-old Greg talks of his journey to the top of the game, winning a Michelin star for Petersham Nurseries Café on the outskirts of Richmond in the UK and surviving two heart transplants.
While your parents are of Lebanese origin, you were born and brought up in the suburbs of Melbourne. Did you ever face cultural dilemmas?
My mother, May, was born in Lebanon and moved to Melbourne, while my father, Kevin, was born in Melbourne to Lebanese parents.
So while my mother, a homemaker, had a traditional approach to cooking, my father, who enjoyed cooking the occasional meal at home, loved to experiment. It is this harmonious blend of mindsets that I guess played