Embattled chef drops out of food festival as empire crumbles
EMBATTLED chef George Calombaris has pulled out of the Noosa Eat & Drink Festival following the collapse of his restaurant empire and a multimillion-dollar staff underpayment scandal.
Calombaris, who has also lost his MasterChef judge role, was due to cook alongside Miguel Maestre, winner of I'm A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, at the popular May event.
Three weeks ago, Calombaris placed his Made Establishment into administration, with 12 of the group's 22 businesses closing immediately, affecting more than 400 employees.
Months earlier, Made back-paid $7.8 million to 515 staff at its Press Club, Gazi and three Hellenic Republic restaurants in Melbourne.
While Calombaris has headlined previous Noosa food festivals, he was never going to get star billing this year, according to organisers.
That honour will go to his former MasterChef colleagues Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan and their new TV partner Manu Feildel.
The full festival program will be announced on Thursday.
Other big names include Neil Perry, Matt Moran, Kirsten Tibballs and Mark Best and local heroes Alastair McLeod, Matt Golinski, Matt Sinclair and Alanna Sapwell.
Preston said the talent line-up was "brilliant", and the festival's name change - from food and wine - reflected the event's relaxed nature.
"It's one of the things Queensland does so well, rather than it being a hoity-toity food festival," said Preston, who has attended almost every one since 2003.
"It's always fun doing the walk to the heads and bumping into all the chefs - the fit ones are running, others like Gary and I are toiling up the slopes," he laughed.
"And we love reacquainting ourselves with delicious Queensland produce - I've just got to keep Gary away from the Woombye cheese!"
Preston, Mehigan and Calombaris sensationally quit MasterChef in July last year, citing an inability to agree on contract terms with Network 10.
Shortly after, Channel Seven signed Preston and Mehigan - but not Calombaris - for a new show called Plate of Origin, with Feildel announced as the third musketeer in October.
"Gary and I have known Manu for years, and we're looking forward to having fun with him on stage in Noosa," Preston said.
As well as a name change, the festival will relocate - from Lions Park to Noosa Woods - with up to 10,000 people tipped to attend.
View the full festival weekend program www.noosaeatdrink.com.au