Melissa Leong, the ever-smiling face one can recognise from reality cooking show MasterChef Australia, dons many hats. The judge and presenter on the show, is not only an accomplished food and travel writer, but also a food media consultant, radio broadcaster, and cookbook editor. MasterChef Australia was streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Born and raised in Sydney to Singaporean-Chinese parents, Leong believes that her sense of generosity, kindness and care for one another and for customers makes her passionate about her work. “Going above and beyond in your life should be a daily ritual,’ says the 39-year-old.
For the judge and presenter, food holds an extremely special place in her life. She continues, “I feel, food is nourishment on all levels. Flavour, texture and balance of course, but also emotion, soul, stories.”
Every experience leaves a lot of memories and lessons. And the journey of every season on the show has enriched her life as well, feels Leong. “I have learned that the best food comes from the heart and is honest, kind and open. It speaks to who the maker is, and that tells me a lot,” she says.
Hailing from a Singaporean Chinese background does not restrict the food writer from trying out different cuisines. She shares, “I like to cook a lot of Nonya and Chinese dishes because of my family background and upbringing. But I also love to cook a lot of pasta and slow-cooked Euro-centric fare as well.”
The last few seasons on the show have witnessed a lot of exposure to Indian food. Thrilled to see the cuisine take spotlight on a global platform, she says,“Indian cuisine is one of the world’s most ancient and diverse food cultures, and to see such regional specificity and to have these contestants so beautifully articulate is what makes it so special.”
Ask her if she has a favourite, when it comes to the cuisine, she replies, “Dal will always have my heart. It is the humblest of foods, but takes a lot of skill to make delicious.”
With a diverse set of judges and competitors, the show has been a trendsetter and a changemaker in many ways. Talking about how important that has been to the culture of the show, Leong shares, “I think that diversity has always been a key component in the contestant lineup since season 1. It’s just that different years yield different concentrations of people, as they do skills and stories. MasterChef has always been a celebration of cultural diversity, and I am proud to now be part of that story.”
Her one advice to future contestants and chefs all over the world is to bring their truth to the kitchen, work hard, listen to advice given by people who matter, to not overwork themselves or overthink things, and find their own personality in their dishes. “It’s not a very difficult formula,” she signs off.