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
‘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
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)
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
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
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.