MasterChef Australia has roared back on to our screens, captivating well over a million people every night it’s on air and turning our three amazing new judges – Melissa Leong, Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen – into TV superstars.
We caught up with Melissa for a chat about life in Australia’s most famous kitchen.
Q: How does it feel to be a part of such an iconic cooking program such as MasterChef Australia?
A: It goes without saying that it is an honour to be passed the baton and asked to be help bring the next chapter to life. It came as a huge surprise for me and is, without a doubt, the opportunity of a lifetime.
Q: What comes to mind when you think of MasterChef Australia?
A: When I think of MasterChef Australia, I think of a juggernaut that nobody saw coming. Who could have anticipated that it would change the way Australians converse about food, the way we cook and dine out. I grew up in an era in Australia where sport was king and because of shows like this, the dialogue has changed. That’s no mean feat!
Q: What is your signature style or dish and why?
A: I love food that feels effortless. That doesn’t mean that a lot of hard work and skill hasn’t gone into it, but as an eater, it should be a joy to consume. The simplicity of a juicy, golden, crisp skinned roast chicken, served with perfectly reduced pan jus and fantastic sides, is an example of a dish I love. Great produce, respectfully and knowingly treated, offered up humbly: it doesn’t get much better than that.
Q: What is your favourite thing about cooking, and who or what keeps you inspired?
A: Food is ultimately emotional food me. I love the way a certain dish can transport you back to a moment in time, who you were with, where you were. The right food has soul, as well as creativity and technical elements. We share it with people we love and like. No matter what’s happened in a day, you still need to sit down (if you are fortunate enough), to eat.
Q: What ingredients, techniques or cuisines do you enjoy cooking regularly?
A: My parents are from Singapore, so I cook a lot of South East Asian food. My Hainanese chicken rice and beef rendang is killer, but I also cook a lot of recipes from my southern Italian mother-in-law, Vincenza, who has been generous enough to share her family recipes with me. It doesn’t hurt to be married to one of the most talented chefs I have ever encountered and we’re obviously a little competitive at home in the kitchen!
Q: What’s the best cooking advice you’ve received that you want the MasterChef Australia contestants to know?
A: I always answer when asked for advice, “Work hard and don’t be a dick”. Approach what you do from a place of soul and confidence, but make sure you can back it up by bringing it to the table with substance, as well as style. If I don’t like it, you’re going to know about it.