celebrity

The $7.8 million scandal that saw the downfall of George Calombaris.

George Calombaris is one of Australia’s most famous chefs, known for his former role as one of the three MasterChef judges alongside Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan.

Now, however, his empire has suffered a colossal fall, after he failed to pay his staff at his Made Establishment restaurants.

In July last year, an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman found he underpaid staff by nearly $8 million dollars. The 40-year-old subsequently lost his job at Network 10, after he had been one of the main judges since the show’s first season in 2009.

And it has since been announced that his restaurant empire has been put into voluntary administration, with most venues required to stop trading immediately.

Here is everything you need to know about the scandal that landed George Calombaris into hot water, and what his life looks like now.

What did George Calombaris do?

George Calombaris is the founding shareholder of Made Establishment – a collection of Hellenic-inspired restaurants, including Hellenic Republic, Press Club and Gazi.

The company self-reported to the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2017, admitting they had underpaid a significant number of their employees. They subsequently back-paid 515 current and former employees $7.83 million and a further $16,371 was back-paid to nine employees of Jimmy Grants.

In July, the Fair Work Ombudsman fined Calombaris and his Made Establishment company $200,000. However, unions are disappointed by this result and have called on the federal government to address wage theft penalties.

“While anyone else would face prison time for theft of millions of dollars, employers routinely steal huge amounts from working people and get away with simply returning the money they have stolen and paying a paltry fine,” Michele O’Neil, President of Australian Council of Trade Unions, said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Calombaris apologised for the underpayment, saying: “It is our people that make our restaurants great, and it is our priority to ensure all of our employees feel respected, rewarded and supported in their roles.”

Why did the Press Club close?

In March 2019, the celebrity chef announced one of his Melbourne restaurants, Press Club, was closing down. First launched in 2006, Press Club was one of the restaurants owned by Calombaris where current and former employees had to be back-paid.

“I can’t stop crying but I know good things have to come to an end,” Calombaris wrote on social media announcing the restaurant’s closing.

“The Press Club has given me everything. Not just me but also thousands who have experienced it. The Press Club was a dream to put Hellenic ideas on the map. To love the past and to always look forward. Yes, it’s the end.

“We never stop dreaming, thinking and creating. We make mistakes. Lots of them. The Press Club will always be in my heart and soul – 12 years of memories. More than a restaurant; it’s a place that creates stories, innovation, love and life.”

He added that after the close, they will “enter an exciting phase of reinvention”.  There was no mention of the underpayment of staff in that announcement.

Voluntary administration of MADE establishment.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

????

A post shared by George Calombaris (@gcalombaris) on


On Monday, it was announced that George Calombaris had put his restaurant empire into voluntary administration.

KordaMentha, an advisory and investment firm, has been appointed as administrators of 22 companies in Calombaris’ Made Establishment group.

A statement by KordaMentha stated, “The appointment excludes the Yo-Chi operations which will continue to trade as usual”.

ADVERTISEMENT

“All other venues have stopped trading immediately. Employees have been paid all outstanding wages and superannuation up to the date of the appointment.”

Made was founded by Calombaris 13 years ago and currently operates 12 restaurants and food venues in Melbourne.

In a statement by Calombaris, the chef shared his “deep sadness and regret”.

“To all my team, I truly regret it has come to this. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your loyalty and friendship,” he wrote.

“On a personal note, the last few months have been the most challenging I have ever faced… I am so sorry all our collective efforts have not proved to be enough. I’m gutted that it’s come to this.”

Why did George Calombaris leave MasterChef?

masterchef judges quit
Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan had been the judges on MasterChef for 11 successful seasons. Image: Network Ten.

As the underpayment scandal blew up, there was widespread calls for Calombaris to be sacked by Network 10.

Initially, Network 10 stood by Calombaris, saying in a statement: "George and Made Establishment have reached an agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman in relation to this matter. George has the support of Network 10. We will not be making any further comment."

But less than a week later, it was announced that George Calombaris and his two co-judges Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan were leaving MasterChef after 11 highly successful seasons.

They said contract negotiations with the network broke down.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, fellow MasterChef judge Matt Preston made no excuses for his former co-star.

"There’s obviously a problem with the underpaying of some of the most vulnerable workers in Australian society, whether they are migrants, whether they are young people or casual. There’s no excuse for that," he said.


Sign up for the "Mamamia Daily" newsletter. Your morning hit of the top news stories, to be consumed with a coffee in hand.


00:00 / ???