Food and family at the heart of travel
TV chef George Calombaris on new discoveries in Greece, knowing enough Italian not to get ripped off and being fed a thousand-year-old egg by Poh Ling Yeow.
ROM cooking off the coast of Italy on fashion designer Valentino’s yacht, to eating barbecued chicken hearts on a side street in Jakarta, MasterChef’s George Calombaris says, “if you want to get into the veins of a city, forget the Acropolis, and tuck into its food”.
If you had friends coming to visit you at your home in South Melbourne, what three local things would you insist they do?
GC: Coffee in the morning at Top Paddock. A bowl of pasta at Thirty Eight Chairs and a macaron at Zumbos. Gee, it’s all about food isn’t it?
Favourite place to holiday in Australia?
CG: It would have to be down in the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. It’s a very nostalgic place for me – we grew up with a family beach house at Safety Beach. It’s only a 55-minute drive from the Melbourne CBD and just beautiful – the perfect place to potter about, drink coffee, eat and catch up on small talk with family.
GC: It’s gonna have to be Greece. I’m fortunate enough to go there every year and each time I’m there I make an incredible discovery – something new, something different. Mykonos is beautiful, it’s got a certain energy about it that’s really lovely, Crete is another favourite but I can’t pick just one island or even the mainland, I love it all.
What are some of the best things you’ve eaten during travel?
GC: I think about the Fat Duck in Bray, eating Peking duck in Beijing, rojak in Kuala Lumpur, I think about eating the most incredible culatello (cured ham) in Italy, schnitzel in Munich, balsamic in Modena, the list goes on and on. Everywhere has got something beautiful, something special.
What about the weirdest?
GC: I remember Poh (Ling Yeow) trying to feed me a thousandyear-old egg in series one of MasterChef. That was weird.
How does travel influence your work?
GC: On a recent tour of Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta I was inspired by a guy barbecuing little chicken hearts on the side of the street. Then I thought to myself how do I transfer this feeling and this experience to my customers back home? At the heart of a lot of the travel I do is food and family. I’m always thinking about how I can share these experiences with others.
Best place you’ve ever stayed?
GC: There are a few but one place I always go back to is the Belvedere Hotel in Mykonos. It’s one of my favourite little hidey holes where I can just get away from the world and live a Macedonian life for a bit.
How many languages can you speak?
GC: Greek quite well and Italian OK – enough to not get ripped off.
What destinations are on your wish list?
GC: I haven’t been to Spain so that’s on my hit list. I’m yet to explore the north of Greece and there’s two things I love – food and football (soccer) so hopefully Russia for the next World Cup. Interview by Chanel Parratt. MasterChef starts this week on Channel 10.