5 Minutes with George Calombaris

George Calombaris knows a thing or two about cooking. 

The MasterChef judge has five cook books, several restaurants, and was once voted one of the most Influential Chefs in the entire world.  

This Australia Day, George is lending his support to the local meat industry as a 'lambassador'. 

We sat down with him to chat about his favourite BBQ feast, feeding fussy kids, and the power of simple whole foods.

What's your go-to dinner after a busy day? 

I'm into things like simple proteins, cooked very simply, and good salads. For me, salad doesn't mean lettuce leaves dressed with a vinaigrette. It's some pearl barley cooked nicely and tossed with beetroot, maybe a little shaved red onion and some parsley. That's what I like. It's got to be meat of some description and salad - protein and salad. And it's so easy. What I love about a lamb chop is it's two minutes on one side, two minutes on the other, a little sprinkle of cumin, some sea salt and you're done.

You have a family, do you cook for them?

Not necessarily. I'm very lucky. I have a partner and she does most of the cooking at home. Again, our diet at home is all about good vegetables, good pulses, good protein, and the kids eat what we eat. There's no special meals for them, and they love it. It's great.

That is great! I was a fussy eater when I was a child...

My son is fussy! My daughter is brilliant, she eats everything. But it's just persistence, and making them part of the process is important. You know, Natalie [George's partner] will take them to the market once a week, and they walk around the market and they know who the fruit and veg supplier is, they know Gary the butcher, they know who the fish monger is. Kids like to know everything and if you can involve them in that process from start to end, they generally get it. 

What would be on the menu at a summer BBQ for you? 

It's lots of salads. Thinking about what's in season right now, or things like some incredible tomatoes, simply dressed with a little bit of olive oil and salt, [or] a good balsamic vinegar. Done.

Figs are delicious at the moment. You know, figs torn apart, a little fresh gorgonzola, some toasted walnuts. Done. 

Lentils are fantastic. They're dry - you can keep them in your pantry for years - then boil them up until they're tender, again [with some] olive oil, lemon juice, ricotta. Done. 

I love making little lamb koftas. Lamb mince is affordable and a good source of protein. Good mince with lots of spice - cumin, coriander, chopped onions, garlic - made into little patties and then grilled off. Then yoghurt or tahini, make a little dressing out of that - you're done!

Sausages are also great. You know, steering away from big cuts of meat is always good and it makes life easier.

What do we love about a BBQ? We love the caramelisation, that reaction between the contact of heat and the cut of meat, and we love the crispy, crunchy outside coating on a lamb chop, and a nice rosy centre - that's the key. 

You're all about simple meals. A lot of people think healthy meals are often more difficult to make - what would you say to them?

First of all, let's question 'what is healthy?' 

Healthy to me is a whole foods diet. Everything I mentioned to you just now is whole foods - there's nothing processed or manufactured - it's real, local, in-season food. 

You know, thinking 'Oh, I've got to trim the fat off the lamb' - well, no! Because I'm not eating 10 kilos of lamb fat, I'm eating 10 grams that's crispy and they're good fats! They're not bad fats. 

Bad fats are processed, they're high-produced food, and they're not good for you. 

My diet has always been very simple. It's whole food, it's real food, it's delicious food, it tastes good, and everything in moderation. You know, am I going to eat butter or am I going to eat margarine? Well I'm going to eat butter, but I'm not going to eat 10 tablespoons of butter. I'm going to smear a bit on my toast and enjoy it. 

You know, Aussies love a good Sunday roast. What's your best tip for cooking a roast? 

Plan and prepare. 

I actually did cook last weekend. I had a few friends over. So on Saturday night, I got home from the restaurant, put the oven on at about 80 degrees and stuck a little lamb shoulder in there - just rubbed with a good olive oil, sea salt, a bit of rosemary from the garden and sage. Cooked that for about 10-12 hours. And what you end up with is the most incredible texture of meat that you've ever eaten. In the last 30 minutes, you turn the oven up and crisp up the outside so it gets all golden and crunchy, and in the middle it's soft - you literally lean your fork on it and it falls apart. 

We did that, we did a big bowl of cucumber tzatziki. We did little flat breads, a little parsley salad, a quinoa salad, and house-made oven-roasted sweet potatoes, and we just sat there and made our own little souvlaki at the table. 

It was interactive and everyone was around the table. It was nice. 

Learn more about great ways to cook lamb at beefandlamb.com.au. If you're stumped for meal ideas this Australia Day, lbest to heed the advice of SBS anchor Lee Lin Chin in the star-studded ad campaign.

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