Melissa Leong had big shoes to fill when she — along with Andy Allen and Jock Zonfrillo — replaced Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston as judges on the latest season of MasterChef Australia on Star World. The Australian television host and food critic bided her time before giving her nod. “Knowing the impact this show has made around the world, I wanted to ensure that I would be able to give it my all,” says Leong, who became the first woman judge to come on board the show after 11 successful seasons.
One would imagine that the sumptuous food and the novel recipes are the secret to the show’s glorious success. But Leong believes that its true appeal lies in its contestants, each bringing his unique journey to the table. “The best food you can eat is something that is true to the person making it. Their techniques may showcase how they balance flavours using contrasting textures, but [the dish they make] tells the story of who they are,” she asserts.
Week on week, 24 contestants bring their A-game to earn the coveted title. Even as she admits that the competition is intense, the critic believes the atmosphere on the set is more encouraging than nerve-wracking. “We strive to provide the best environment to encourage all the contestants. We don’t want to see anybody fail, it’s not that kind of show.”
After grabbing eyeballs in Australia and the US, she hopes the latest edition finds favour with the Indian audience when it airs later this month. A fan of Indian food, Leong says she has been whipping up desi dishes since a young age. “It is one of the most diverse and complex cuisines in the world. It takes a lot to perfect an Indian dish.”