So here’s the thing with MasterChef right, it’s arguably been the best reality TV show in Aussie history. Consistent ratings, they never mess with the format too much, loveable contestants who aren’t cringe, usually delivers good memes, solid judges – for the most part. So when Melissa Leong joined as one of the three new judges in season 2020, it was bound to be strongly analysed.
Leong, the food journalist and writer, was joined by Andy Allen and Jock Zonfrillo in a new, fresh and exciting combo. You got a feeling that MasterChef had to bring a bit of diversity via their new judges too, the whole middle-aged-white-men vibe had certainly become a tad tired and stale. If not made untenable with George Calombaris’ wage theft debacle.
I love Melissa, she just floats around and eats the food and banters with the contestants and dresses like a princess and honestly what else do you need in life #MasterchefAU pic.twitter.com/Mzjuj3PbQj
— Niccy T (@NicReality) April 29, 2020
— Melina Tulifau (@melinatulifau) April 22, 2020
And naturally, when you have any new things, elements, or in this case judges, they’re going to be scrutinised. But this is fine, it’s natural human instinct to perhaps be a little bit reserved about such a big change. And it was a big change.
Then you have criticism for the sake of criticism, and let’s not pretend like Melissa wont/hasn’t been subject to more just because she’s a woman. Like the ridiculous criticisms of her outfits on the show, which was strongly dismissed by contestants.
Personally, I’ve always had quite a positive outlook when it came to this year’s judges – especially Melissa. It took an episode or two for her bubbly, charming and kind persona to really rub off on me. But a handful of episodes in now, and I’m a proper stan – totally on board with the exuberance. And here’s why.
Heart Of Gold
To start with, one thing that’s not hard to miss is that pure freaking heart. We saw during this week’s Thai food challenge how she answered a call (mid-episode judging mind you) to take a booking for the restaurant they were filming in.
It wasn’t a gimmick, it wasn’t some producer tip off, it by all accounts, was just a genuine, heartfelt act. Mainly because she didn’t want the restaurant missing out on any business. And of course people will say the cameras were rolling, blah blah blah. But ultimately, she didn’t have to do it, and honestly the other judges looked pretty shocked.
I just love this woman! @fooderati And this phone call and the reason she took it just made me love her more. And don’t even get me started on the earrings… @masterchefau #MasterchefAU @10Daily https://t.co/JspNyu7NPW
— Lisa Wilkinson (@Lisa_Wilkinson) May 5, 2020
But this was just one moment, of many in the short amount of episodes so far. I think what we’ve seen quite regularly throughout the early episodes is that Mel (can I call her that?!) Has good intentions in everything she does. She’s critical when she needs to be, but she leads with empathy – and I can’t wait to see her in upcoming seasons when she has more starry-eyed contestants to mentor.
There’s been some great Asian representation on-screen this season, with contestants like Khanh, Jess and Brendan all positive beacons for the show. And I adore the way that Melissa has just been able to connect with them, often with a gentle arm around the shoulder – rather than the more brute force we can get from Andy and Jock.
My favourite moment personally was the little heart to heart Leong had with Brendan when he was cooking wontons as part of a challenge. Where she just immediately was able to resonate with Brendan, and you knew that meant something to him.
can we go back a second and just talk about brendan saying how lovely it was that Melissa understood the importance of his wonton dish because she’s from an Asian background too 🥺
THIS is why representation and diversity is so important #MasterchefAU
— Isha Bassi (@Isha_Bassi) April 22, 2020
Leong is just such a good role model, she has that wisdom, yet is still more than able to relate to some of contestants from previous years.
Maybe my favourite think about Leong though is that she is quite unapologetically bold. There was a lot of talk early on about the writer’s controversial former tweets where she basically destroyed MasterChef as a TV show.
In a few choice tweets and retweets in 2012, Leong associated being on MasterChef with 2nd hand car sales – and even seemingly backed the idea that going on the show wasn’t a great idea for amateur chefs. But she has since stood by those tweets, and done so quite publicly – which is damn brave in the cancel culture climate we live in.
On top of that her fashion sense and wardrobe is BY FAR the best of the three new judges. Andy often looks like a teenage boy who found his dad’s clothes – if that dad was George Calombaris. Jock has his whole waistcoat thing, but it feels a bit cravat-y. However, Melissa’s outfits are just elegant as fuck. The earrings are big, the colours are bright, it’s perfect expression through fashion – and I’m so here for it.
Being a journo, she obviously has a way with words – she’s naturally and effortlessly eloquent with how she describes dishes, especially when tasting. Which again, I’m totally living for. And it doesn’t feel premeditated – but rather smart, relevant and intricate.
Melissa is so good at describing food that she could write a whole novel just describing a dish #MasterChefAU
— Cathy (@cathy_chen7) April 30, 2020
So Melissa, Mel, however I have the pleasure of addressing you, please keep being you. Keep sending that warmth out there into the world, and we’ll continue to love you for it.