We discovered MasterChef Australia fairly late by any set of standards. This happened soon after we moved back to India a little over three years ago. We’ve definitely made up for lost time since, and the show is a firm fixture on our TVs every season now. All the three judges are well-loved and respected everywhere, and getting to meet any of them is such a privilege. So when George Calombaris, celebrity chef, restaurateur and MasterChef judge was in town, we were totally thrilled to be sent an invitation for a meet and tasting with him.
After an introduction and a few questions George Calombaris and his team started plating up the first dish – Ouzo Cured Indian Seabass with Miso Eggplant. Chef explained that the original dish had been planned with salmon but since that did not work out they switched to Indian Seabass.
The peppery spice crust on the fish, the ouzo and the eggplant were a nod to the chef’s Greek heritage. We don’t usually opt to eat fish that’s not felt the heat of the stove, but were pretty glad we tried this. The texture of the fish was very different from anything that we’ve tasted before, and the peppery crunch of the crust as well as the celery set it off very nicely. The eggplant sauce was incredibly smooth, the miso gave it real depth, and a deliciously savoury appeal.
Soon after the chef along with two of his team members from his restaurants in Australia started working on the second dish – Soft Shell Crab Souvlaki. Souvlaki is popular Greek street food – usually a grilled skewer of meat wrapped in pita bread. The chef mentioned that he had not found the bread as per his requirement so he was improvising by using naans for the souvlaki instead of the traditional pita. The filling was crispy fried soft shell crab, being fried aromatically right in front of us.
The souvlakis were prepared by the chef at a speed that would match any busy street vendor’s, and served in paper cones. He urged everyone to “eat them while they’re hot!” and no one needed any further prompting to do just that.
Some fresh lettuce and a schmear of honey-lime-mint dressing was all that came between the crab and the naan. Delicious flavours and such a contrast of textures between the chew of the naan, crunch of the crab and smoothness of the dressing.
Dessert was Salted Caramel Rice Pudding with Almond Biscuit, Rice Ice Cream and crushed pistachios. Again there were plenty of contrasting textures that popped around our mouths as we dug into this creation. The chef talked about how every culture has a rice pudding which infused wild ideas of salted caramel ribbons running through our next pot of kheer.
We loved how friendly, witty and sociable the chef seemed. His down to earth attitude, love for food, his inventiveness, outstanding creativity, affection for his team and his business expertise were evident as we listened to him talk.
It was a really inspiring afternoon. The food, as well as the chef’s banter as he answered questions about everything from his take on molecular gastronomy to his dessert preferences, his aversion to spicy food and his vision for his restaurants.
We thank Zomato and Gold Rush Entertainment for bringing George Calombaris to our city, and for the invitation to meet him. And special thanks to JW Marriot for hosting a wonderful event.