After Masterchef Australia: Back To Win, Australian television personality Melissa Leong, along with Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen, is back as the judge of Junior Masterchef Australia. The current season of the spin-off is a landmark in Masterchef history as it has made a comeback on TV after nine long years.
In a chat with News18, Melissa talked about her ‘extraordinary’ time filming the two seasons of the most popular cooking shows of the world. “It’s been a crazy year but the love and the joy that I’ve received for working with the most tremendous people, to go to work with Jeff and Andy everyday, have fun and celebrate food, is a great privilege. It has certainly not been lost on me. I’ve been very grateful,” she said.
While the Covid-19 outbreak has changed the face of entertainment television, Melissa says that it is a privilege to be able to continue working in spite of a pandemic. “Being a food show, things like hygiene, among others, requires intensive consideration so it wasn’t a lot of adjustment to add a few protocols to make sure that we were adhering to the laws. It’s very difficult not being able to hug or high-five people. Food brings us together, we love that we’re connected through food and we can be there when we’re all feeling joyful or feeling sad, or stressed. We are there to comfort each other. We still feel the same things, we just had to use our words more to convey how we’re feeling, to communicate to others that they’re not alone.”
The charm of a show like Junior Masterchef Australia lies in the sheer capabilities of the participants despite their young age. “It is just so extraordinary. We knew it would be good, but I don’t think we were prepared for how extremely extraordinary that it was going to be. Before we chose our top 14, we had our top 24. It was so tough to even pick 14 from that number because they were all brilliant and I feel sad that we didn’t give the opportunity to some of the other kids as well but we had an extraordinarily well-chosen 14,” she said.
“I certainly could not cook that well at age ten. I mean, my parents always let me in the kitchen and I was allowed to help with small tasks, but I don’t think I would have been able to cook a three-course meal flawlessly, multiple times a week for my family. Who are these kids, and what lucky families,” she added.
During Masterchef Australia 12, Melissa received a lot of praise for being the ’empathetic judge’ in a highly competitive environment. “You can’t possibly understand the experiences of others to their fullest extent. But you can try to understand the challenges someone else goes through and show them kindness and empathy. That’s how we bring the best out of each other as humans,” she explained.
All was not rosy as Melissa had to also face racist and sexist attacks by trolls on the internet. However, she has always let her work and expertise do the talking. Many hailed the food writer for being an inspiration as the first woman of colour to serve as a judge on the series.
“I said yes because I am a food writer and a presenter and I wanted to do the job. But being in the job I could understand that what I represent, is a signal to all others who have felt underrepresented and unheard. That we have an important message to bring to the world. That my presence is not just about a signal to women or People of Colour, it’s a signal to everybody who feels unheard. And it could be ability, it could be identity. Every human deserves the right to be seen, to be heard and to contribute to the conversation,” she concluded.
Junior Masterchef Australia is streaming on Disney+ Hostar Premium with new episodes every week.