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* This is an updated and
edited version of an article originally published in InSight 102 on 7
October, 2009  
 


MasterChef
 has
returned to our screens for a fifth season and is not having quite the
same ratings success as the glory years of 2009 and 2010. My interest
certainly waned as soon as Channel 10 started promoting the sexist and
very dated ‘boys versus girls’ concept (I mean why not ‘long hair/short
hair or those born in Australia/those not or republicans/monarchists?). 
 

Of course the real stars remain the three judges –

Matt Preston
,

Gary Mehigan
and
George Calombaris. The
show’s producers did a very astute job back in 2009 when they selected
(cast?) what could have been a controversial (all-male, all-Melbourne, 2
ex-pat Poms) panel of judges. 
 

Most of the

MasterChef
media
spotlight has fallen onto George Calombaris, with ‘unlikely sex symbol’
being quoted in more than one article. The Age  Melbourne Magazine
featured George as their October 2009 cover story. It is an excellent
article and provides an illuminating glimpse into how George has come so
far in a relatively short period of time. 
 

This is what I took from the story of George’s life
so far: 

  1. It doesn’t matter where you grow up  
    – George grew up in the decidedly unfashionable outer-Melbourne area
    of Berwick/Narre Warren.
  2. Poor school results aren’t the end of the
    world –  George scored 17 out of 99.95
    for his VCE.
  3. Be prepared to start at the bottom and do the
    hard yards –  George’s first job at age
    16, was washing pots in a restaurant.
  4. Don’t be afraid of failure  
    – George was chef de cuisine at fine dining restaurant, Reserve,
    when it closed after failing financially in 2005. George’s marriage
    dissolved in 2007 after lasting only three years.
  5. Find like-minded people as business partners  
    – Behind the scenes (and putting up much of the money) in George’s
    restaurants (Hellenic
    Republic
    ,

    Press Club
    ,

    Maha Bar and Grill
    )
    are savvy businessmen, Joe Calleja and George Sykiotis.
  6. Make your passion your life  
    – To quote George’s partner, Tricario “I can sit
    by the pool and read a book; he’ll sit by the pool and write a new
    menu. After MasterChef, I told him he needed to have a break but
    it’s what he loves to do and that’s what makes him so successful.”
  7. Create foolproof systems to deliver consistent
    quality   – George states that the

    Hellenic Republic
    is
    about high-volume consistency through codifying every dish on the
    menu. “You could put a plumber in Hellenic, put a chef’s jacket on
    him and show him the book. ‘Go ahead you make it’. It’s all
    structures.”
  8. Keep life in perspective –  
    George’s father had two bouts of bowel cancer 10 years apart, which
    had George say “I reflect on walking into the Alfred Hospital with
    him to get his chemotherapy and I think, why would I whinge about
    scales on the salmon or a staff member calling in sick? It drives me
    always to think positive.”
  9. Spend more time working ON a business, rather
    than IN it   – George employs 130 people
    and doesn’t regularly cook in any of his restaurants. He spends his
    time in his restaurants eating and observing the interactions
    between his staff and the customers and continually looking for ways
    to improve his customers’ dining experience.
  10. Be full of energy for life  
    – Quoting his dad “He hates the word tired. He doesn’t
    believe in it. He says you’re here to live, you’re going to be a
    long time dead, so just do it.”
  11. Be yourself  –
    There’s no Ramsay-esque temper tantrums, airs and graces or anything
    about George that yells ‘try-hard’. He’s comfortable being himself
    and the enthusiasm he has for dining, great culinary skills and the
    hospitality industry comes across as authentic and compelling.
The world of cooking and restaurants is a great
breeding ground for success because it doesn’t matter where you were
born, what school you went to, how good your marks were, who your
parents know or what you look like – what counts is great food and
excellent service delivered with passion, consistently. 
 

On that count I would argue George Calombaris is a
better success role model than many of our over-hyped and over-paid CEOs
or our many ethically, competency and morally-challenged politicians.   
 

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