George Calombaris, MasterChef Australia judge and owner of seven restaurants in Australia and Greece, has spoken out saying that restaurateurs in Abu Dhabi need to come up with new restaurant concepts that show off its true heritage.
Speaking to Caterer ahead of his debut at Gourmet Abu Dhabi food festival he said: “Restaurants here can be serving things like club sandwiches and ceasar salads and it’s like ‘woah’, there’s so much that you could be doing.
“You could be really passionate about your surroundings. If I was here running a restaurant I’d want to go and visit women cooking the lachmagine or the kidbe – all the stuff they’re making in their houses, and think ‘how can I take that and put that into a restaurant today’. It’s lovely, it’s cultural, it’s diverse.
When asked why he thinks they're not doing that he said: “They’re lazy – too complacent, following the norm, just doing what they know.
“If I were to ever open a restaurant here I would source as much stuff locally and really drive the producers to start growing stuff. You know – why do those date trees work here? What else in that species can we start growing? Let’s [think that way] rather than trying to grow carrots in the desert, which don’t work. Let’s be honest, flavour comes from the soil – it’s the chemical breakdown of the soil. What I hear they’re trying to do here is stick it in a greenhouse and [you get] tomatoes that look like tomatoes, but they taste like golf balls.
When asked if restaurateurs, following the economic crash, might be fearful of trying something different, Calombaris retorted: “Fear of what? That’s the best time to open – when people aren’t doing, you do, that’s how I see it. I’ve just opened my seventh restaurant in Melbourne two weeks ago and it’s a time in Australia when it’s very flat. We didn’t feel the economic crisis, but I think we’re feeling the aftermaths of it. My dad had an Italian mother and a Greek father and I have a love affair with pasta and it’s a pasta studio that opens up into a mess hall – nothing over AUS $33, very affordable. If you see the current going that way, I want to go [the other] way.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m no genius, I make mistakes, I’ve made plenty, but I just see this as the time to relish. Would I go and open up a fine dining restaurant right now? Absolutely not, it’s not the time for that, but [you need to] get people excited, people still need to eat.”