when the new de­li­cious.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - On Sunday - To read Ge­orge Calom­baris’s first col­umn – his in­sider picks of where to eat in Athens – head to de­li­

He’s a hard man to get hold of at the best of times, what with run­ning a restau­rant group with 600-odd em­ploy­ees, film­ing half of each year for Mas­terchef, tak­ing his Jimmy Grants sou­vlaki bars around the coun­try and de­vel­op­ing a range of Greek food prod­ucts. There’s a cook­book to write, brand com­mit­ments to ful­fil and the 10th-an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions of his Hel­lenic Repub­lic to con­duct.

He’s a man with a full di­ary, but right now Ge­orge Calom­baris is stuck in Athens. Our phone catch-up has been re-rescheduled due to the one thing nei­ther he nor any of us can con­trol: the weather.

“It’s been three days of crazi­ness – the boats have stopped, planes have been can­celled. It’s the weird­est weather,” he says down a patchy line when we fi­nally speak.

But un­sea­sonal late-sum­mer storms do lit­tle to dampen Calom­baris’s en­thu­si­asm for the birth­place of democ­racy, a city he has re­turned to an­nu­ally for the past two decades.

“It’s been a won­der­ful trip,” he says. “I’m lov­ing what I’m see­ing here. There’s some re­ally ex­cit­ing stuff, in food and booze. There’s a cer­tain emo­tional, spir­i­tual feel­ing when I’m here to see a place get­ting back up and on with it.”

There was an “in­cred­i­ble meal at CTC. Alex [Tsi­o­ti­nis] is cook­ing some re­ally awe­some stuff”. Cock­tails at The Clum­sies “are so for­ward-think­ing – there’s no fuss, no wank­i­ness” and a new place, Bird­man, is a Greek take on a Ja­panese pub that Calom­baris raves about. “It’s lit­er­ally a hole in the wall, a real ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s su­per-cool. And very de­li­cious.”

Adding to his al­ready full dance card, in his new role as de­li­cious. travel ed­i­torat-large, Calom­baris will share th­ese tips and more in his new monthly col­umn. The mag­a­zine has long cov­ered travel through the lens of food, but the newlook, com­pre­hen­sive travel sec­tion on de­li­ is now a des­ti­na­tion in its own right, and Calom­baris’s hitlist will run there as well as in the mag­a­zine each month.

For him, travel is all about the next meal. “I don’t go to Paris to see the Eif­fel Tower,” he says. “I go be­cause I want to eat. I just bloody love food so I want to give peo­ple a great ex­pe­ri­ence.

“When in Rome, you won’t see me at the nor­mal places. If ev­ery­one’s got selfie sticks out, that’s po­ten­tially a big prob­lem. The most im­por­tant thing is, don’t fol­low the hordes.”

With one of the best con­tact books in the busi­ness, Calom­baris can call on his chef mates around the world to find out where to eat when he’s in their home towns. But this trip was not only a factfind­ing mis­sion – Calom­baris had other im­por­tant busi­ness to at­tend to.

This trip he mar­ried his long-term part­ner, Natalie Tri­carico, in Athens in Septem­ber in front of fam­ily and friends in­clud­ing Nigella Law­son, Sat Bains and his fel­low Mas­terchef mus­ke­teers, Matt Pre­ston and Gary Me­hi­gan. Their happy union book­ends a tur­bu­lent 18 months for Calom­baris. With pub­licly played-out tra­vails in­volv­ing a staff-wages fi­asco and an as­sault con­vic­tion, over­turned on ap­peal, 2017 was his an­nus hor­ri­bilis.

“The last cou­ple of weeks here in Greece, it’s been an emo­tional time,” he says. “Not just for me; for my en­tire fam­ily. You re­ally work out who truly loves you, who truly cares about you, through the tough times.

“The trips and stum­bles are im­por­tant. Peo­ple say, ‘Ge­orge, you’re a suc­cess.’ I say, re­ally? The only thing I mea­sure is how I can get back up af­ter I’ve stum­bled. Through ad­ver­sity, what’s been a tough time, you come out stronger, wiser, bet­ter and hope­fully don’t make the mis­takes again.”

He says the wed­ding – the sec­ond for both – was a mag­i­cal day for his whole fam­ily. “See­ing our kids – they were 100 per cent front and cen­tre with us. That will be a mem­ory we’ll never for­get. Hav­ing James stand­ing next to me at the al­tar, see­ing Michaela walk down the aisle with her mother and grandad – it was one of those things where you go, how cool is this,” he says.

“At that point it’s less about what’s hap­pened. It’s all about what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

Travel, of course, af­fords time out from the day-to-day that al­lows for in­tro­spec­tion, for plan­ning, for push­ing your­self out of your com­fort zone.

“Go­ing away gives you mo­ments to re­flect, mo­ments to think. Es­pe­cially when you’re in an­other coun­try, you can think about your life. For me, a hol­i­day is not just about rest­ing and re­lax­ation; it’s to pre­pare the mind, pre­pare it with thoughts of what you’ve done, what you want to do and where you want to go.”

For now, that means the launch of a hos­pi­tal­ity staff-well­ness pro­gram with his MADE Foun­da­tion, the roll-out of Greek by Ge­orge Calom­baris – a range of lo­cally made Greek prod­ucts such as cheeses, olive oil and the famed Hel­lenic Repub­lic white tarama – and the re­lease next year of his first cook­book in four years. For now, how­ever, there’s more eat­ing to be done.

To cel­e­brate their 10 sea­sons of Mas­terchef and be­fore film­ing for the 11th gets un­der way, Calom­baris, Pre­ston and Me­hi­gan em­barked on the ul­ti­mate food tour. From Celler de Can Roca in Spain to the pizza joints of Naples, with a trip to Chicago for a meal at Alinea and then to Lima for a crash course in Peru­vian gas­tron­omy, the trio spent a fort­night tick­ing the world’s best eat­ing ex­pe­ri­ences off their bucket list.

When Calom­baris says travel is all about the next meal, he means it.

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