The celebrity chef George Calombaris, in the UAE over the past week filming scenes for season six of the hit culinary reality show MasterChef Australia, says he is in discussions to open a signature restaurant in Abu Dhabi. "It could happen," he says. "There have been some meetings and we have found an amazing spot, but it is still very early days yet."
Calombaris, along with the programme's fellow judges - fellow chef Gary Mehigan and the food critic Matt Preston - spent a week in Dubai shooting the series, in addition to touring the Burj Khalifa, The Dubai Mall and the spice markets.
Calombaris, born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, has been a regular visitor to the UAE. His last stint was last year, appearing as part of Gourmet Abu Dhabi. "The UAE is an interesting place because there is such a mix of so many different cultures," he says. "It is kind of freaky. If you look at a picture of Melbourne from, let's say 1975, we got high rises. If you look at a picture of Dubai from that time it's just desert and the World Trade Centre and now there seems to be everything here."
For Mehigan, his maiden UAE stop confirmed to him the global popularity of the programme. "It has been a real eye-opener for us," he says. "We know the show has been sold to more than 70-odd countries, but you really understand that when you are walking down the street and people from all walks of life say hello to you. We are never greeted like superstars, thankfully - we are greeted instead like old friends, which is really so nice."
Mehigan, who has travelled to India, New York, Italy and Hong Kong with the show, says he prefers street food. "I am definitely not a big fan of these big restaurants or the buffets or things like that," he says. "I find that when you are out there among it and trying the different cuisines that everyone eats you get to know a bit about the people and the place."
As well as trying out some "tasty curries" in Bur Dubai and Deira, Preston says he spent some time in the city's upscale dinning venues. "I had a really good time in Zuma and Hakkasan and tried some wonderful dishes," he says. "There was also a place at the Atlantis hotel, I forget the name, but I had this really delicious kibbeh with saj bread. When I had it wrapped together it reminded me of a really tasty meat toasty."
Preston says Dubai was picked because of its similarities with Australia. "It's more than just the horse-racing," he laughs. "We both have big melting pots. In both, the countries are relatively older and the cities much younger."
MasterChef Australia season three is on Fox, Wednesdays at 3am. Season one episodes are on OSN BBC Lifestyle, Tuesdays at 12.30pm
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