From having a recognisable byline as a food writer to previously being a co-host of The Chefs' Line on SBS, Melissa Leong has been in the public eye for a while.
What she says, wears and who she's in a relationship with are often the subjects of widespread discussion amongst fans and the media. But as we grow older, the wisdom and confidence in one's self makes us more resilient to external chatter, says the TV star, and 2022 is going to be her best year yet after recently celebrating her 40th birthday in late March.
"I'm really excited," Leong tells Refinery29 Australia. "I think that every year passes and I learn a little bit more about myself. I've become a little bit more comfortable with who I am and my place in the world.
"You also learn to navigate the people around you a lot better," she continues.
"I was just having a discussion with a friend about a particular interaction that she'd had with someone and you learn to be able to say, 'Well that's a them thing and this is how we navigate that particular situation with dignity.'"
Leong says there's joy in realising which situations you need to take responsibility for, and when it's alright to step back.
"You learn to move on from owning things that you don't need to own and it's a really light, wonderful thing," she reflects. "I think as we get older, and we hopefully become more of ourselves, we also learn to treat people with a lot more empathy."
Leong promises this season — which features 12 'favourites' from previous seasons and 12 'fans' who are amateur home cooks — is really going to up the ante.
"What you have is 12 returning contestants who, yes, they bring so much to it. But what the fans bring is this unbridled enthusiasm for wanting to excel and to also impress the people that they've grown up watching for so many years on their favourite television show," she explains.
"And what you get is this energy and this enthusiasm as well as just a significant amount of culinary skills."
The TV star says that from the first episode viewers will see "the standard is already sky-high" and it only gets better from there.
"It just continues to climb and climb throughout the season," she reveals. "It's some of the best food I've ever tasted — just full stop — within the MasterChef kitchen."
In terms of who's starring on the show in 2022, the favourites include Julie Goodwin (Season 1), Billie McKay (Season 7), Sashi Cheliah (Season 10), Alvin Quah (Season 2), Michael Weldon (Season 3) Mindy Woods (Season 4), Christina Batista (Season 5), Sarah Todd (Season 6), John Carasig (Season 7), Aldo Ortado (Season 10), Minoli De Silva (Season 13) and Tommy Pham (Season 13).
Let the cooking begin!
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites premieres on Easter Monday, April 18 at 7:30pm on Channel 10 and 10Play.