Two MasterChef contestants have spoken out in support of George Calombaris in the wake of his wages scandal that’s made headlines this week.
The comments come days after the show’s longtime judge was found to have underpaid staff by more than $7.83 million across his restaurant empire.
George, and fellow judges Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan have since left the MasterChef franchise over unrelated contract agreements with Network Ten.
The series’ latests evictees - Tim Bone and Nicole Scott - have defended the popular chef, and detailed the behind the scenes support he offers contestants.
“George was my favourite judge, he really gave me a lot of advice towards the end of the competition — I think he could really see my growth,” Tim tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“When we did the challenge at Press Club, the way he ran the kitchen was amazing and he just always gave me advice to never give up.”
The pair’s mutual admiration was seen by fans when contestants paid a trip to George’s now-closed flagship restaurant, The Press Club, on its final day of service.
The visit saw fan favourite Tim tear up in front of his kitchen colleagues, several episodes before he was eliminated for the second time on Tuesday night.
“I wear my heart on my sleeve and what you see on TV that’s just who I am,” he says.
“George allowing us, just amateur everyday cooks, to cook in his beautiful Press Club kitchen on the last day of service, it just meant so much to me that he trusted in us that we would be able to put up some amazing dishes.”
“The chef life isn’t easy and it’s definitely not for everyone but I really appreciate all the advice I’ve been given and I really have great respect for all the judges.”
Nicole, who said goodbye to the cooking show on Monday - two nights before the grand finale - agrees, and says, “He [George] was always so supportive to the contestants and gave us great advice.”
Scandal for George Calombaris
But while the restaurateur might have the support of his onscreen mentees, pressure had been mounting for Network Ten to dump one of its most famous faces.
The criticism follows revelations George’s company Made Establishment underpaid more than 500 staff by $7.8m, in venues including The Press Club, between 2011 and 2016.
Affected employees were eventually backpaid before the Fair Work Ombudsman fined the chef and his company $200,000 last Thursday.
However, union president Michele O’Neil criticised the relatively measly size of the sanction, when it was handed down two years after the scandal first came to light.
“While anyone else would face prison time for theft of millions of dollars, employers routinely steal huge amounts from working people and get away with simply returning the money,” she said.
Network Ten initially stood by their star, adding ‘George has the support’ of the station.
All three judges leave
However, in a shock turn of events not related to George’s case, Network Ten have revealed that George, Gary and Matt will all be leaving the franchise at the end of Tuesday night’s finale.
“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.
“We would like to thank Gary, George and Matt for their contribution over the past 11 years.
“Australia is full of remarkable cooking talent and we can't wait to introduce another group — and the next generation of exceptional judges — in season 12 of MasterChef Australia next year.”
According to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, the trio were after a 40 per cent pay increase.
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