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George Calombaris opens up on how he rebuilt his life after dramatic fall from grace

George Calombaris opens up on how he rebuilt his life after dramatic fall from grace 2

Disgraced celebrity chef George Calombaris has opened up on his new outlook on life after hitting rock bottom during a series of scandals. 

Calombaris, 43, became a household name when he 2009 joined MasterChef as a judge in 2009, rapidly building a restaurant empire on the back of his success. 

But a decade later, the once-celebrated cooking icon would abruptly fall from grace in a $7.8milion wage underpayment scandal and assault of a teenage soccer fan.

His company Made Establishment went into voluntary administration and his restaurants were all shut down.

Former celebrity chef George Calombaris (pictured) has opened up about his highly-publicised fall from grace and his new outlook on life

Former celebrity chef George Calombaris (pictured) has opened up about his highly-publicised fall from grace and his new outlook on life

‘I went from being on the biggest television show in Australia, flying, with 21 restaurants, to nothing at all,’ Calombaris told the Herald Sun.

‘It all just stopped. The phone stopped ringing. Crickets. My self-worth went, my feeling of being needed and valued. It all just vanished. Everything stopped. I had to sell up and move on.’

MAdE collapsed in February 2020 after being ordered by the Fair Work Ombudsman to pay workers millions in unpaid penalty rates. 

Calombaris was personally hit with a $200,000 penalty for the wage rorts but always insisted the underpayments were simply a mistake he blamed on inexperience. 

The ex-hospitality boss said the payment error was detected after the company made a self-report, but the publicity that followed made it impossible to keep his 21 businesses alive. 

His reputation was further damaged when he was caught on camera attacking a 19-year-old at an A-League grand final between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory.

Calombaris was convicted of assault and fined $1,000, but the damage to his name was so bad his conviction was later overturned. 

As his businesses began crashing down around him, he struggled to see the light on the other side.  

‘You just feel like the world is going to come to an end and you’ll never enjoy anything again. I cried so much, it felt like every minute of the day when no one was watching me, I’d be in tears. I couldn’t see a way out,’ he said.

Calombaris said many high-profile people who suffered adversity in their lives and his closest friends rallied behind him during the ‘horrible’ time, giving him the strength and support to pull through. 

The former MasterChef star, 43, (pictured right with co-stars Matt Preston, centre, and Gary Mehigan) said he was 'selfish' for wanting to build a business empire

The former MasterChef star, 43, (pictured right with co-stars Matt Preston, centre, and Gary Mehigan) said he was ‘selfish’ for wanting to build a business empire 

Calombaris' 12 restaurants and food venues in Melbourne will stopped trading  in 2019 after his hospitality company went into administration

Calombaris’ 12 restaurants and food venues in Melbourne will stopped trading  in 2019 after his hospitality company went into administration 

The Melbourne-based restaurant empire founded by Calombaris operated 18 venues, including Hellenic Republic in Brighton (pictured)

The Melbourne-based restaurant empire founded by Calombaris operated 18 venues, including Hellenic Republic in Brighton (pictured)

Calombaris said it was the ‘worst feeling’ when he discovered the payment error, and realised he needed to report it.

Despite the publicity the saga garnered, Calombaris said his company also overpaid 48 per cent of its 500-staff strong workforce, but that detail was never reported. 

He takes responsibility for the pay problems, and says he got ‘sloppy’ and failed to check in on the pay office amid his busy schedule. 

As his world collapsed around him, Calombaris hit rock bottom – eventually picking himself after waking up after a big booze-filled night and realising his life had to change. 

Calombaris (pictured in March 2022) says he now focuses on the 'simple things in life' after his business calamity

Calombaris (pictured in March 2022) says he now focuses on the ‘simple things in life’ after his business calamity 

The family moved to Arthurs Seat, in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula in March 2020 and Calombaris reignited his passion for cooking by becoming the executive chef of his family’s household. 

At first, he was afraid the stigma from his past life would follow his family, but was relieved to be welcomed in by the community as fellow school parents immediately invited him into their conversations.

By slowing down his lifestyle and beginning to engage with the community, he found a sense of purpose, cooking meals and sharing them with friends as well as helping Melbourne business associates struggling amid the pandemic. 

He said the one positive from his business calamity was having more time with his family after he frequently missed major milestones in the heat of his action-packed career. 

Reflecting on his old dreams, Calombaris said he was ‘selfish’ to grow a ‘business empire’ and by wanting to be a ‘big restauranteur’ and has now reset his values to focus on family.

He has a new job as a culinary director at Hotel Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula after his friend and Australian television presenter Eddie McGuire got in his ear about returning to professional cooking. 

Calombaris has picked up a new role as the culinary director of Hotel Sorrento on Victoria's Morning Peninsula

Calombaris has picked up a new role as the culinary director of Hotel Sorrento on Victoria’s Morning Peninsula 

The ex-restauranteur said moving away from Melbourne has been great for his family and helped him realign his values. Pictured: Hotel Sorrento

The ex-restauranteur said moving away from Melbourne has been great for his family and helped him realign his values. Pictured: Hotel Sorrento 

After a whirlwind few years, the former reality tv star said he finally ‘feels in control’ and appreciates the ‘simple things in life’.  

Calombaris hosted MasterChef Australia from 2009 to 2019 alongside fellow judges Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan. 

The wage issues were first discovered by Calombaris’ company’s accountants in 2015 when the company went from a ‘$30 million business to a $50 million business and expanding’.  

When the matter was still being resolved in the courts in 2017 and his public profile plummeted, the Melbourne chef was charged with assault after shoving a 19-year-old fan at the 2017 A-League grand final in Sydney for heckling him.  

Calombaris was dropped from MasterChef in 2019 when the series moved from Channel Ten to Seven due to the toxicity from his wages saga.   

He subsequently exited the spotlight before recently making a return to TV with an appearance on Channel Nine’s The Masked Singer. 

Timeline of Calombaris’ woes 

MAY 15, 2014 – The Department of Health investigates after diners who ate at the Hellenic Republic at Kew fell ill. It is later confirmed norovirus affected about 100 people

APRIL, 2017 – It’s revealed about $2.6 million in back payments were dished out to 162 workers employed by Made Establishment because of payroll ‘discrepancies’ dating back to 2011.

MAY 10, 2017 – Calombaris is charged with assault over a fight with a 19-year-old at an A-League grand final between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory in Sydney a few days earlier

MAY 16, 2017 – Melbourne man David Peter Schreuder sues the Hellenic Republic restaurant and Made Establishment group over the norovirus encephalitis outbreak

AUGUST 17, 2017 – The chef pleads guilty to assault over the A-League incident

SEPTEMBER 8, 2017 – He hands in his Melbourne Victory No. 1 ticket due to the assault

OCTOBER 20, 2017 – Calombaris is fined $1,000 for the A-League assault

FEBRUARY 1, 2018 – His assault conviction is overturned on appeal after a District Court judge agreed with Calombaris’ lawyer that he had suffered significant financial and personal loss, and was unlikely to re-offend

JULY 18, 2019 – The Fair Work Ombudsman fines the MasterChef Australia judge and his Made Establishment company $200,000 for underpaying staff at his restaurants by nearly $8 million

JULY 22, 2019 – The West Australian government suspends its tourism campaign featuring Calombaris over the Fair Work Obudsman fine

JULY 23, 2019 – Calombaris and fellow judges Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan leave MasterChef after contract negotiations fail

FEBRUARY 10, 2020 – It is reported Made could fall into voluntary administration, putting the futures of 500 workers at its 18 restaurants at risk. 

MAY 2020-  the Yo Chi Frozen Yoghurt chain owned by George Calombaris is told off, marking the end to the celebrity chef’s restaurant empire. 

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