TV

George Calombaris breaks down talking about his week from hell: "I'm sorry"

He's finally gone public about exactly what happened.

By Rebecca Sullivan
Former MasterChef judge and embattled celebrity chef George Calombaris has broken down while being grilled about his week from hell, and apologised for underpaying his staff millions of dollars.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the wage scandal and just a week after it was announced that he wouldn't return as a judge on MasterChef next year, along with fellow judges Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan, the 40-year-old failed to hold back his tears as he revealed the heavy toll the intense public scrutiny has had on his mental health.
In an intense sit-down interview with ABC's 7.30 host Leigh Sales, which will air in full on Wednesday night, George's voice cracks and he starts to cry, when he is asked how tough the last week has been.
"It takes a long time to build a reputation, in your case 25 years of work, and you can lose it in a week," Leigh Sales said to George, before asking, "What has been the toll of that on you?"
Lowering his head to the ground in silence, George finally brings his face up to the camera, visibly upset.
"I love this industry, I really do, and I love every opportunity that it's given me," he said, his voice shaking.
He said he took full responsibility for underpaying his staff.
"I'm not here to blame anyone," he said.
"I take full responsibility for this. I'm sorry."
George is asked the tough questions about what went wrong. ABC
He breaks down and apologises. ABC
He said he was devastated to find out that his business had failed his staff, who he says "are everything to us".
"I won't forget that afternoon in 2017 when we sat there with my new business partners after we'd done a full audit for the business and discovered the underpayments," George told 7.30.
George blamed a rapid expansion strategy and a lack of business savvy on the poor company ethics.
"The thing about 13 years ago, you're a young chef, 26 years of age, you want to open your first restaurant, you get together with three other partners at that point, and you open the first one, then the second one opens, the third one, the creativity is flying, the ideas are flying, the dreaming is there," he explained.
"But the sophistication in the back end wasn't there.
"There was no CEO, there was no people culture manager, there was no elite finance team like we've got now, that can make sure that mistake that we made will never happen again."
He added that he won't be closing any of his restaurants, which still employ 642 workers.
The three judges announced last week that they would quit together. Channel 10
Last week, it was revealed that George, Gary and Matt would not continue as judges on MasterChef next year, after pay negotiations with Channel 10 broke down.
"Despite months of negotiation, 10 has not been able to reach a commercial agreement that was satisfactory to Matt, Gary and George," Chief Executive Officer Paul Anderson said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Across 11 sensational seasons, MasterChef Australia has established itself as one of the most popular and respected cooking television series around the world," the statement continued.
"We would like to thank Gary, George and Matt for their contribution over the past 11 years," he said.
George also faced criticism in 2017 after he allegedly assaulted a man at a football match who criticised him for underpaying his staff.
WATCH BELOW: The moment MasterChef's George Calombaris angrily shoves a man taunting him for underpaying his staff. Story continues after video.
While Channel 10 is yet to officially announce who the new judges will be, speculation is rife that guest judges Poh Ling Yeow, Kylie Kwong, Maggie Beer and celebrity chef Curtis Stone are the top picks for 2020.
The full interview will air on ABC's 7.30 tonight.