MasterChef duo leave Calombaris behind
FORMER MasterChef judges Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan will appear in a new TV show on Channel 7 next year, according to a new report.
The Herald Sun today reports that the two former Ten stars are "cooking up a new television show" on Seven, set to be announced at the network's Upfonts next Wednesday.
Embattled fellow MasterChef judge George Calombaris was reportedly "off the list" for inclusion in the new show after being fined $200,000 for underpaying staff at his restaurants.
The report follows a swift denial from Preston earlier this week after a report in the Australian claiming he and Mehigan were set to appear on Seven's flagship cooking show My Kitchen Rules.
"I can confirm that I am talking to other networks and producers about new projects for 2020 and beyond," Preston told news.com.au.
"Taking over MKR as host/judge is not on the agenda! I have too much love for Manu, Colin and Pete to do that!"
There have been whispers for months that Channel 7 is keen to sign both Preston and Mehigan but not Calombaris, who earlier this year was fined $200,000 for underpaying staff from his restaurant empire more than $7.8 million in wages.
News.com.au has today contacted Channel 7, who declined to comment on the report.
The three former MasterChef stars, who were sensationally dropped by Channel 10 in July, are all contracted to the network until the end of the year, but they each have a different "hold back" agreement with the network that stipulates how long their have to wait before they can sign with other commercial networks in Australia.
Network 10 pulled the plug on the trio just hours before the season 11 finale aired, with the episode attracting the series' lowest-ever ratings for a finale.
In a statement at the time, Ten's chief executive officer Paul Anderson said: "Despite months of negotiation, 10 has not been able to reach a commercial agreement that was satisfactory to Matt, Gary and George."
A press release announcing the judges would be replaced on MasterChef in 2020 caught everyone off guard, including Preston, who was about to head into Triple M to do a radio interview to promote this year's MasterChef finale.
He was in the car outside the radio station when he read on social media that Channel 10 had given him the flick.
"It would probably have felt worse if I was by myself, but the fact I was with one of the publicists with Ten who had no idea and who was just aghast by the situation, especially about to go and do a national radio show, it was a bit of a shock," Preston later said on ABC radio.
According to the Herald Sun's Fiona Byrne, Calombaris' "hold back" clause with Channel 10 is longer than Preston and Mehigan's. But the "hold back" clause doesn't cover international TV opportunities, which Preston told news.com.au was now their main priority.
"The feedback we have all received in person on our travels and online from so many of the 20 million fans around the world who loved watching the 'three musketeers' on TV confirms that we'd be mad not to continue making TV together overseas for the international market," he told news.com.au. "This is something we all look forward to doing when the time is right."
Channel 10 announced last week that Mehigan, Preston and Calombaris would be replaced on MasterChef next year by Jock Zonfrillo, Melissa Leong and Andy Allen.
There was speculation that household names including Maggie Beer, Curtis Stone or Poh Ling Yeow might be cast as the new judges, but instead Channel 10 has chosen a trio of relative unknowns.
Zonfrillo was named Australia's Hottest Chef in 2018 and has hosted television shows including Nomad Chef, Restaurant Revolution and Chef Exchange.
MasterChef fans will perhaps remember Andy Allen who won season four of the cooking show.
Leong is an accomplished food and travel writer, food media consultant, radio broadcaster, television presenter, MC and cookbook editor. And even she seemed shocked to have landed the MasterChef gig.
"It came as a huge surprise for me, and is, without a doubt the opportunity of a lifetime," she said in a statement. "I am really looking forward to getting stuck in."