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‘I am a huge fan of many Indian dishes; ‘dal’ will always have my heart’: Melissa Leong

"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," the MasterChef Australia judge said

Written by Shweta Sharma | New Delhi |
June 16, 2021 12:30:18 pm
Melissa Leong, Melissa Leong MasterChef Australia, Melissa Leong food writer, Melissa Leong Fooderati, Melissa Leong masterchef, Melissa Leong InstagramMelissa Leong is a judge on MasterChef Australia along with Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen. (PR handout)

Melissa Leong dons many hats. She is not only a food and travel writer, TV and radio presenter but also the first female and first Asian judge on MasterChef Australia.

On the popular cooking show, Leong is not only loved for her warm and amiable persona but also her impeccable fashion sense and dazzling smile!

In an exclusive email interaction with, she talks about the experience of judging home cooks on the show, her love for food and her take on Indian cuisine.


Last year, you assumed the role of a judge on MasterChef Australia. How will you describe your journey in the last two years?

It’s been a rollercoaster. I am honoured to be a part of this next chapter of such a beloved series, and it has been an honour for Jock, Andy and I to take that opportunity and run with it.

MasterChef Australia was synonymous with its previous three judges. Did you feel any pressure while taking over the role of one last season?

Not at all. It’s a new era and we are grateful for their success in order for us to have the opportunity to take on this next chapter. I think the audience is smart enough to take that on.

As a judge on the show, what do you look for in a contestant and their dish?

I look for truth. In who people are, how they cook and what they bring to the table. And above all, it must be delicious, naturally!

The show is known for being a melting pot of various cuisines and cultures. But one that stands out almost every season is Indian food/contestants. What is your take on Indian cuisine?

MasterChef has always been a celebration of so many of the world’s great cuisines and it is with such happiness for me, to see Indian food take the spotlight in many ways, this season. 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 — that’s a thrill for me.

If you had to pick an Indian dish you really like (on or off the show) which would it be and why?

I am a huge fan of so many Indian regions and dishes, but if I had to pick one, as simple as it is, ‘dal’ will always have my heart. It is the most humble of foods, but takes a lot of skill to make delicious. To me as an outsider, it is part of the soul of Indian culture and I think that’s very special.

Have you ever visited India? If not, would you like to visit, and try which cuisines?

I have not yet had the great fortune of visiting India, but I really hope to one day. I am in love with the vibrance, diversity and energy of India. I think I’d want to see as many regions as I can. I’m a big believer in digging deep when I travel to a new place.

You are also the first-ever female judge on the show. How does it feel? Do you think it comes with some added responsibilities?

I am! It is an honour and not one I hold lightly. I think now that I am two seasons in, it’s less about myself and more about signalling to others who haven’t adequately been seen, that their time is coming. I always want to celebrate inclusivity wherever I can.

When and how did your love with food begin? If you had to rate yourself as a chef, where would you place yourself on a scale of 1-10?

My parents started my love of food. We’re Singaporean, so it’s in our blood! I’m not a chef, I’m a cook and most importantly in this role, a writer. I would place my skill level at an 8.

The pandemic affected everyone in a huge way. How has the shooting experience been?

We have the best production and crew in television, I truly believe that. So they did what they do best — made it work. It was challenging not to be able to be as close as we’d normally be, but we got through it and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of such a special group of people.

MasterChef Australia 2021 is available on Disney+ Hotstar Premium. 

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