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From MasterChef to insolvency: George Calombaris’ 30 weeks from hell

George Calombaris has listed his home and moved on from MasterChef. Images: Getty, Network 10

George Calombaris’ restaurant group MADE Establishment entered voluntary administration on Monday afternoon, capping off a horrific seven months for the former MasterChef judge. 

The restaurant group, which holds 22 businesses and employs 400 people, was placed into voluntary administration by a “devastated” Calombaris with 12 restaurants in Melbourne to stop trading immediately.

“My dream for MADE Establishment 13 years ago was a vision to create something truly special for all those who entered our restaurants,” Calombaris said on Instagram. 

“Although we have all continued to work tirelessly and overcome the many challenges we have recently experienced, it is with deep sadness and regret that today MADE Establishment has been placed into voluntary administration.”

He said the last few months have been “the most challenging I have ever faced”. 

“I truly regret it has come to this.”

2017-2019: Warning signs

George Calombaris has had a rough few months. Image: Getty

Calombaris hadn’t been immune to controversy prior to July 2019 - he was charged with assault after he allegedly shoved a man at the A-League grand final in Sydney in 2017. His conviction was overturned in 2018, after reports he had lost $750,000 in endorsements.

The chef also apologised in April 2017 for shortchanging 430 employees at 162 restaurants a total $2.52 million. 

Calombaris has maintained the underpayments were due to “historically poor processes” and has repaid affected staff. But that was the first domino to fall. 

18 July 2019: Underpayment scandal hits the fan

Calombaris’ woes reached new heights on 18 July 2019 when he was slapped with a $200,000 fine after the Fair Work Commission found he had underpaid 515 current and former employees a huge $7.83 million. 

"We apologise to all our affected team members, past and present - as 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," Calombaris said in response.

"We are committed to acting as a force for change in the industry and leading by example when it comes to building and promoting supportive, healthy and compliant hospitality workplaces."

July 22 2019: George loses Western Australia Tourism contract

Days after the huge underpayment scandal came to light, Calombaris lost a major endorsement deal with WA Tourism.

Calombaris starred in a campaign promoting Western Australia as a destination to “design your own gourmet escape”. 

“George Calombaris was a small part of a Tourism WA campaign encouraging people to visit the areas of the State that featured in the recent WA Week on Masterchef Australia,” a Tourism WA spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.

“Given the recent community response due to Mr Calombaris’ issues with the Fair Work Commission we have paused the parts of the campaign that have featured him and we’re speaking with his management.”

23 July 2019: MasterChef mass exodus

The next day, the three MasterChef judges Calombaris, Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston part ways with the hit program. 

While Network 10 maintained the decision was separate to Calombaris’ highly publicised challenges, pressure had been mounting for MasterChef to cut the star. 

Network 10 CEO Paul Anderson said the decision came after months of negotiation. 

“10 has not been able to reach a commercial agreement that was satisfactory to Matt, Gary and George,” he said. 

31 July 2019: George lays blame at difficult standards

In his first interview since the $7.83 million scandal, Calombaris broke down, describing himself as “gutted” over the breaches. 

He said his early payroll systems lacked the required sophistication, a problem that was never truly rectified. 

“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 said.

“But the sophistication in the back end wasn't there."

He said his goal would be to promote change in the industry. 

Calombaris had been appointed as ambassador for the Fair Work Ombudsman, a role in which he had to promote proper workplace practices.

18 September 2019: 10 years’ jail for wage theft proposed

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter. Image: Getty

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter announced the government was mulling 10-year jail sentences for perpetrators of wage theft - in line with penalties for other forms of theft. 

However, he said these penalties would be waived in the case of “genuine mistakes”. 

“These new criminal penalties should rightly apply only to the most serious types of offending where there is clear evidence of persistent or repeat offending, or offending on a significant scale," he said.

"We recognise that the industrial relations system is complex and we need to ensure that any new penalty regime is fit for purpose and avoids any unintended consequences.

"For example, we do not want employers who make genuine mistakes and move swiftly to rectify them to end up with a criminal record."

10 February 2020: MADE Establishment enters administration

Calombaris announces the empire will enter administration, prompting fury from unions. 

"This is a double assault on working people - first, Calombaris rips off workers and owes them $7.8 million in wages and now they face losing their jobs," Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari told AAP.

"No worker should lose a job, or a dollar, when Calombaris is still cashed up."

The chef quietly listed his multi-million dollar Toorak home for sale this week, days after selling his ritzy holiday house. 

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