when the new delicious.
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 delicious.com.au 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.