Reality TV

“To those I’ve hurt, I’m sorry!” MasterChef Australia star George Calombaris is determined to make things right

George opens up to TV WEEK on his mistakes, and how he's changed...
Loading the player...

When TV WEEK reaches George Calombaris, we find him on the Mornington Peninsula, south-east of Melbourne. He’s planning to spend the day visiting local providores to check out produce for his chain of restaurants.

“I’ll have a look at some cool goat’s cheese they’ve been making for us,” George, 40, says with excitement about a task that may seem a bit too pedestrian for a celebrity chef.

But, he insists, “that stuff is actually in my DNA, and without that, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, and I’m grateful for it”.

That’s not all George is grateful for. The MasterChef Australia judge says turning 40 last year has helped him reflect on both his accomplishments and his missteps.

George says turning 40 has helped him reflect.

As a result, he’s ready to offer gratitude – and seek forgiveness.

“I’m probably learning to stop and smell the roses,” he says. “I can’t change what I’ve done or what’s happened. I’m certainly remorseful about some of those things, but I’m proud of a lot of things too. To those I’ve learnt from, thank you. To those I’ve taught, I’m honoured. And to those I’ve hurt, I’m sorry.”

That last remark refers to a turbulent 2017 when George came under fire in the media after it was revealed that nearly 200 staff at his restaurants had been underpaid $2.6 million. At the time, he blamed “poor processes in classifying employees”, before apologising to those who’d been affected.

A month later, George was charged with assault after becoming embroiled in an argument at the A-League Grand Final. He pleaded guilty, then won his appeal against a conviction in January 2018.

He told the judge he was working towards “being a better man”, especially in the wake of losing two key ambassadorship roles as a result of the incident.

What George said then holds true now.

“When I know I’ve done something wrong or made a mistake, I’m not upset at anyone, but [rather] that I’ve let them down,” he says as he reflects on that difficult year. “I’m lucky to have incredible mechanisms and people around me that have helped me get through it.”

George on MasterChef Australia (Image: Network 10).

For his business, that means not only being aware of the kind of menus he’s presenting, but also the kind of staff he’s fostering.

“We’re doing incredible work with a gentleman called Jonni Pollard, who I believe is probably one of the best mindfulness people in the world,” George explains about getting his leadership team into learning meditation. Once they graduate from the program, they can pass on the knowledge to the rest of his company.

“Hospitality is the country’s biggest industry,” he adds. “I know I want to go out and save this industry through mindfulness because it means something to me, but I can’t do that without getting my team right.”

Along with mental health, he’s also added physical health to his daily regimen, which contributes to being a role model to his kids – James, seven, and six-year-old Michaela – with wife Natalie Tricarico.

“She exercises and takes the kids to the boxing gym she goes to, which is also her thing,” George says.

“And I love that, because I think it’s important for kids to see their parents being active.

“Kids are sponges, and my kids are foodies just as much as I am, because I’ve brainwashed them that whole foods are what I want you to eat!” he adds with a laugh. “If you’re going to eat fast food, no problem. But it has to be fast food with a slow food mentality.” [Slow food is an international movement that promotes local ingredients and traditional cooking.]

George with his MasterChef Australia co-stars Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston (Image: Network 10).

MasterChef Australia airs Monday to Thursday, and Sunday, 7.30pm, on Network 10.

Related stories