Celebrity chef and former MasterChef judge George Calombaris has broken down in his first public interview since news broke that he was underpaying his staff by almost $8 million.
The ex-MasterChef judge can’t forget the afternoon in 2017 when he and his new business partners discovered the underpayments after a full audit of the accounts.
“I’m not here to blame anyone,” he will tell ABC television’s 7.30 host Leigh Sales in an interview to be aired on Wednesday.
“I take full responsibility for this. I’m sorry.”
His restaurant and food brands company, MAdE Establishment, has since repaid the money to current and ex-employees. It was also been fined $200,000 by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Calombaris blamed his own inexperience in the face of a rapidly expanding business.
“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 will tell 7.30.
“But the sophistication in the back end wasn’t there.”
There was no chief executive officer, “people culture manager” or “elite finance team”. Those structures are now in place, he added.
As for the future, Calombaris is keen to be a “voice for change” in the industry by “not shying away from the mistake we made, but also acknowledging that we fixed it”.