George Calombaris has said he is ‘devastated’ by the blunder.
George Calombaris has said he is ‘devastated’ by the blunder. Contributed

Ten backs George Calombaris amid pay fiasco

CHANNEL 10 has thrown its support behind MasterChef Australia judge George Calombaris in the wake of revelations that his restaurant empire has underpaid staff by $2.6 million.

The news comes just weeks before the TV cooking show is due to begin screening its ninth season.

Ten says it is confident that Calombaris' image hasn't been tainted by his MAdE Establishment underpaying 162 staff, including chefs and waiters, across The Press Club, Gazi and Hellenic Republic restaurants.

Calombaris, Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan are currently filming a special week of MasterChef Australia episodes in Japan.

"It is ridiculous and illogical to suggest that the issues at MAdE Establishment will affect the performance of the new season of MasterChef Australia," a Ten spokesman said.

"George Calombaris and his team at MAdE are dealing with the incorrect payments made to employees to ensure every affected employee receives their full entitlements.

"George has the full support of Network Ten.

"He is an integral part of MasterChef Australia and we know viewers are looking forward to welcoming him, Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston back for an exciting and engaging new season of this much-loved and extremely popular show."

MasterChef Australia judges Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris in Japan.
MasterChef Australia judges Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris in Japan. Channel 10

Media analyst Steve Allen points out that My Kitchen Rules has thrived despite years of controversy surrounding judge Pete Evans' paleo campaign.

He too, thinks Calombaris can weather the storm.

"George seems genuinely contrite so I think this will blow over," Allen said.

"It would have been a disaster in a couple of weeks or during the early run of MasterChef Australia 2017 but it has been well handled by expediting it now."

Ten desperately needs MasterChef Australia to be a ratings success after the network was forced to dump The Biggest Loser: Transformed from prime time last week.

Ten is in a holding pattern for the next few weeks with a mix of Modern Family, Graham Norton specials, Jamie Oliver cooking shows and Sir David Attenborough nature specials filling the 7.30pm timeslot.

"Last year, MasterChef Australia dominated its timeslot, with a capital city series average audience of about 1.2 million, including more than two million viewers for The Winner Announced," the Ten spokesman said.

"This year, viewers will enjoy an even bigger and better season, with a group of extraordinary home cooks ready to impress the judges and the nation - plus some of the best chefs in Australia and the world, including the master of Middle Eastern cuisine Yotam Ottolenghi, Heston Blumenthal, Maggie Beer, Anna Polyviou, Curtis Stone, Ben Shewry and David Thompson."