Eating healthy but loves Hawaiian pizza

MasterChef Australia judge George Calombaris is sporting a new svelte figure these days.

The 36-year-old attributes his 20kg weight loss to a "healthy, balanced lifestyle" and eating whole foods.

"Eat what's in season and try to eat local whenever possible. Avoid eating processed food," says the chef and restaurateur.

He was in Singapore last month to promote the sixth season of the reality TV series, which returns in its search for the best Australian amateur cooks.

He is one-third of the amiable panel of judges on the show, together with his former boss Gary Mehigan and food critic Matt Preston.

The contestants compete for a cash prize of A$250,000 (S$278,109), a cookbook publishing deal and an opportunity to work in some restaurants in Australia.

Calombaris says of returning to the show: "The challenges are always new and the contestants' skills are always better and better when they come on the show, so we always have to up the ante to make things challenging."

This season, contestants will receive additional guidance from Sydney chef Kylie Kwong, who will serve as a regular guest mentor on the show.

Calombaris owns six restaurants in Melbourne and will open a new one, Mastic, at the end of the month. It will serve healthy Hellenic, or Greek, food.

He is of Greek heritage and Greek cuisine is, not surprisingly, his favourite.

The main reason for his dramatic weight loss is so he can run around with his two children, James, three, and Michaela, two. He lives with their mother and his girlfriend, Natalie Tricarico, who works in marketing.

On whether the couple will eventually tie the knot, he says: "Family is everything, I love my family. I'm sure one day we'll get around to it but as long as we're healthy and happy, that's all that matters."

While being healthy is a priority for him now, he admits that his one guilty pleasure is "definitely a ham and pineapple pizza". As for Singapore food, he is unequivocal about his love for chilli crab. But chilli is not really his strong suit.

"I enjoy spicy food. However, when I was growing up, my mum, being Greek, never used much spice, so I'm not used to it. But I tried beef rendang in Jakarta and it was yum."

1 What do you enjoy the most about being a judge on MasterChef Australia?

I love hanging out with my friends, Gary and Matt, every day. It's awesome, we talk about food all day. The show has also been able to teach people how to cook and educate children about food and where it comes from.

2 Matt and Gary seem to want you to fatten up again. Are you trying to get them to follow your lead instead?

I'm definitely influencing them to be healthy and fit. It's easy to overindulge but then you need to work it off. In saying that, we all love our sweets and if it's delicious, it's hard to resist - just work it off later, I say.

3 Tell us something we do not know about your fellow judges.

You never kiss and tell.

4 What was the first dish you ever cooked?

When I was young I worked in a pasta restaurant, so I remember cooking pasta for my family. They ate it, but looking back now, I don't think it was my best dish.

5 When did you realise that cooking was something you wanted to do for the rest of your life?

I loved cooking as a kid. You'd always find me in the kitchen with my mum and Yia Yia (Greek for grandma) from a very young age. I can't say I was very academically inclined but I loved serving people and making them happy through food.

6 What is your favourite dish to cook?

I don't have a favourite, and I don't cook at home so at the restaurant, I'm always trying new dishes to put on the menu.

7 Would you want your kids to be involved in the restaurant business too?

I'll always encourage my kids to do whatever makes them happy. If that means becoming a waiter, then go for it, or even an astronaut - whatever makes them happy.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I've never been asked this question. I think I would like to be remembered as someone who makes people happy through food and brings people back together around the family table.

This article was first published on November 10, 2014.
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