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Celebrity chef Matt Golinski axed as Gympie regional food ambassador

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For more than five years the celebrity chef used his national profile to celebrate the Gympie region’s food and agritourism experiences, but the council says it can’t renew his contract because it can’t measure if he was value for money.

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High-profile chef Matt Golinski says he was made to feel like “some sort of scammer” by Gympie Regional Council when it suddenly ended his contract as the region’s food ambassador.

The Gympie Gold Regional Produce website has also been closed down by council, with internet searches for the brand name now bringing up advertising on where to find cheap bongs for smoking marijuana.

For five-and-a-half years Golinski used his national profile to celebrate the region’s food and agritourism experiences on social media and other platforms, as well as attending festivals, council promotions and food events.

Councillors voted 8-1 to not renew his contract for the next eight months, arguing they could not measure if $16,000 was value for money when no key performance indicators had been put in place for the role.

“Nobody at any point rang me or emailed me to say, ‘Can we help sit down with you, can we get you in?’” Golinski said.

“I was almost left at the end feeling like they were treating me like I was some sort of scammer who’d been ripping them off for five years and hadn’t done anything to earn the money I’ve been getting paid.”

The celebrity chef said money was not the issue for him and he recognised the council was strapped for cash.

“If they’d come to me and said, ‘Hey look, we’re broke, we’re really sorry, we’re going to have to cancel the contract with you and we can’t have you as ambassador anymore’, I would have gone, ‘OK, well, I’ll just do it for free’.”

He said while “that ship has now sailed”, he promised to remain an unofficial ambassador for the farmers who became his friends by showcasing their produce at Noosa’s View restaurant and representing them on the board of Slow Food Noosa.

Farmers furious

The decision has been met with dismay by farmers.

“To take someone with such an incredible profile, such a great bloke, who has done so much for so many producers in our region … I am lost for words as to why,” Cooloola Berries owner Kim Lewis said.

“It’s actually totally devastating for us,” farmer and cook CC Diaz-Petersen added.

“He’s not just a chef, he’s the one that took up our produce and pretty much helped us put our products on the shelves, on restaurant menus, and get people get excited about our produce here in Gympie.”

A delegation of farmers met with Mayor Glen Hartwig to express their disappointment and focus on a way forward for the agricultural sector, which is worth more than $148 million a year to the region.

Agreeing to form a consultative group with farmers, Hartwig apologised for any hurt Golinski might have felt about how his role ended.

Farmers Kim Lewis, Amber Scott, CC Diaz-Petersen, Sandra Lindstrom, Elaine Bradley, Zelda Campisi and Megan Andrews can’t understand the decision. (Photo: ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

“It was never the view of council that he was ripping us off,” he said.

“Matt has done wonderful work for this region; the decision that council made actually had nothing to do with Matt and what he’d done, but more about our organisation and what we hadn’t done.”

Meanwhile, Zelda Campisi from Purity essential oils said she and fellow farmers were devastated and demoralised that internet searches for the Gympie Gold Regional Produce directory had been hijacked by drug spammers.

Campisi estimated that keeping the Australian domain name active would have cost council about $20 a year and said farmers were not given the option of taking it over.

“I can’t believe it. There was a diverse range of products and people on the site, we were all accessible.

“Now it’s just gone in a puff of smoke. I don’t understand any of the council decisions involved around that. It’s very disappointing.”

Hartwig blamed the “embarrassing” decision to abandon the website on staff, not councillors.

“We don’t have a great track record and there’s a history there of frustration and anger and disappointment in council,” he said.

“This is a new group of councillors, we’re getting new management, we’re building a new organisation and it will not happen overnight.”

– ABC / Jennifer Nichols

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