reality tv

Inside the rise and downfall of MasterChef's George Calombaris, Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan.

Last week, after over a decade on our screens, Network 10 announced that judges Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan would be leaving MasterChef Australia.

To fans of the long running cooking show, the news of the judges’ sudden departure came as a shock.

After all, the three men had appeared on screens in Australian living rooms for 11 highly successful seasons.

But while the news was a shock to viewers, the downfall of the MasterChef judges began well before an official announcement was made.

Side note – MasterChef just made dessert sushi a thing. Post continues after video.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, crew from the show shared that they first sensed something wrong at this year’s wrap party, when the latest season of the show finished filming.

“We were texting each other afterwards, wondering if we’d have a show to come back to next year,” one attendee told the publication.

“To us, it [George, Gary and Matt’s speech] felt like an unofficial goodbye speech.”

So how did Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan become the biggest names in television and how did it all go so wrong?

The Spill is Mamamia’s daily entertainment podcast that catches you up on everything you need to know in the entertainment world. On this episode, why the MasterChef judges really left. Post continues after audio.

George Calombaris

After finishing high school, George Calombaris enrolled in culinary studies at TAFE in Melbourne.

While building up his skills, the young chef went on to work as an apprentice at the Sofitel Hotel in Melbourne before he earned the opportunity to work at Sofitel’s Le Restaurant. It was here that Calombaris met sous chef and fellow MasterChef judge Gary Mehigan, launching a friendship for years to come.

After his time working at Sofitel and a brief stint in France, the then 24-year-old was named Young Chef of the Year while working as the head chef at Reserve Restaurant in Melbourne.

Calombaris eventually decided to go out on his own, launching his own restaurant called The Press Club in 2016.

After starting his own restaurant, Calombaris became a celebrity chef in his own right when he was named among the 40 best chefs in the world, but it wasn’t until a stint on daytime television that the chef was scouted for MasterChef Australia.

Calombaris was offered a role to judge the competition after appearing on a slew of episodes of Ready, Steady, Cook, where the chef teamed up with ordinary people to produce inventive dishes.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Early days of @thepressclub and yes. Lots of hair. GC ???? xxx

A post shared by George Calombaris (@gcalombaris) on

In the debut season of MasterChef in 2009, Calombaris and his fellow judges quickly rose to stardom, as the cooking competition unexpectedly became one of the most watched shows in Australia.

Following on from the show’s success, Calombaris’ businesses boomed as he launched a number of cookbooks and became a regular brand ambassador over the years.

But in 2017, the tide began to turn when it was revealed in April that year that the reality star had underpaid 200 hospitality staff by $2.6 million.

Just months later, Calombaris pleaded guilty to common assault after striking a 19-year-old Sydney FC fan at the A-League grand final.

Once the incident settled down, however, Calombaris’ underpayment of staff entered the spotlight once again.

Last week, it was reported that the 40-year-old had incorrectly paid more than 500 employees by $7.8 million.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by George Calombaris (@gcalombaris) on

ADVERTISEMENT

The revelations led to calls for Calombaris to be sacked by Network 10.

Although the program initially supported him, just days later, all three judges left the show.

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.

After being dumped by WA Tourism as the face of their food and wine travel campaign, it’s unclear what Calombaris will pursue next.

Matt Preston

Matt Preston was born in London to British Naval historian and journalist Antony Preston.

During his time growing up in London, Preston was a DJ and punk musician before he began writing for City Limits and IPC Magazines.

In 1993, Preston relocated to Australia, where he started writing for IPC Magazines as their Australian TV correspondent. After several years with the company, he began writing reviews for magazine Inside Melbourne before moving on to write food reviews for The Age in 2000.

In the years that followed, Preston grew a strong reputation as a food critic, writing for a number of publications including the Herald Sun, Taste, The Daily Telegraph, Time Out, The Guardian and Delicious.

ADVERTISEMENT

After being picked to judge MasterChef Australia alongside Calombaris and Mehigan, Preston became well known for his colourful suits and cravats. He has since launched a number of books, became a senior editor for Delicious and Taste magazines, and made countless appearances on a number of TV shows.

Besides MasterChef Australia, the 57-year-old was also a judge on Celebrity MasterChef in 2009, Junior MasterChef in 2010 and MasterChef All Stars in 2012 alongside his fellow judges before going it alone in 2013 when he hosted MasterChef Australia: The Professionals with Marco Pierre White.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Matt Preston (@mattscravat) on

Last week, Network 10 announced that they were unable to reach a commercial agreement with the “three musketeers”.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Preston denied rumours that the three judges left the show over financial disputes.

“We were happy with what was being offered, in fact we had accepted Ten’s financial offer to make the next series of MasterChef,” he said.

“We just failed to agree on the other terms.”

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s believed the three former judges may be in discussions about new series with rival TV networks and streaming services, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. 

Under their new production company GaryGeorge&Matt (GGM), only formed in February this year, the three are developing a concept for a new show aimed at a global audience, and are currently in talks with Netflix and Amazon, reports news.com.au.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Thank you so very much for supporting @masterchefau over the last 11 years. We have loved every single moment. It is however with a heavy heart that I can confirm that season 11 was our last. We were really keen to continue but we were unable to agree to all terms for the new contract. We have enjoyed 11 wonderful years on Masterchef Australia with Network Ten, and I want to take this opportunity to thank Ten for this amazing opportunity and for Network Ten’s backing of this very special show. We have met some beautiful people, discovered and guided some of the brightest up-and-comers in the Australian food scene, worked with the best chefs in the world in front of the camera, and with the TV industry’s finest professionals behind the scenes. And of course, we three judges have formed a lifelong friendship that will live on far beyond the show. I want to take this opportunity to thank you and everyone who has shared our amazing journey with us – especially all those fantastic contestants. I look forward to sharing many more adventures with you in the future. And finally I wish the new judges all the best with the show that we love so much. Thank you all. I don’t want to take any gloss off tonight’s well deserved winner so I will not be making any further comment. Love Matt.

A post shared by Matt Preston (@mattscravat) on

Gary Mehigan

Before appearing on MasterChef Australia, Gary Mehigan trained in London at a number of restaurants including The Connaught Hotel and Le Souffle at The InterContinental.

After relocating to Melbourne in 1991, Mehigan worked at some of Melbourne’s most prominent restaurants, including Browns Restaurant and Hotel Sofitel.

In 2000, Mehigan opened up his own restaurant, Fenix, which he later sold in 2013. He also co-owns The Boathouse in Melbourne’s Moonee Ponds.

Besides his appearances on MasterChef, Mehigan also co-hosts Good Chef, Bad Chef and Boy’s Weekend on Foxtel’s LifeStyle Food channel. The 52-year-old has also released a number of best selling cook books.

Speaking to PopSugar in 2013, Mehigan admitted that he would stay on MasterChef  “for as long as I love and enjoy it”.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

View this post on Instagram

 

To all of our fans ‘thank you’ To the team that makes MasterChef ‘thank you’ and to all of the contestants that we know and love, we are all part of a very exclusive club and what a journey what an experience. To explain: ‘It was time to move on, have more free time to explore our own creativity’ It was never about the money and never will be about the money. We couldn’t agree on the term of the new contract for 2020 and season 12. Something we felt very strongly about. The opportunity to work with Matt and George has been a blessing and something I cherish. Working together will continue to be the most important thing for us…..the three musketeers…….???? @mattscravat @gcalombaris @masterchefau #masterchefau #foodies #foodiesofinstagram #homecooks #homecooking #masterchef

A post shared by Gary Mehigan (@garymehigan) on

“Doing television is remarkable and interesting and amazing – there is nothing like television, and it’s kind of irreplaceable. I do love it. And what I love the most is that as a chef, you can ostracise yourself, you can isolate yourself in your own restaurant, and what I find with this show is that it exposes and inspires me with all these other people – my peers and colleagues, the contestants on the show — it’s like my other workplace, and I find that really, really inspiring at the moment,” he said at the time.

In a statement to his Facebook page after the news of his departure from MasterChef was announced, Mehigan wrote: “It was never about the money and never will be about the money.”

“We couldn’t agree on the term of the new contract for 2020 and season 12. Something we felt very strongly about.”

For more on this topic:

Want more stories on TV and Movies? Visit our newsletter page and sign up to “TV and Movies”  for a backstage pass to the best movies, TV shows and celebrity interviews, from our Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik (see one of her newsletters here)

00:00 / ???