MasterChef Australia’s Jenn Lee: ‘Asian Food Isn’t Just Chinese Takeout’

Image courtesy of Channel 10
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites contestant Jenn Lee
She may be competing against some of the most well-known names in the competition, but MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites contestant Jenn Lee is confident in what she brings to the table.
The Queensland-based dentist, who was born in Taiwan before moving to Australia at the age of six, wants to show the country her unique home-style cooking and challenge stereotypes about Asian cuisine.
Lee says a lot of the Taiwanese food she's grown up eating at home is not often found in restaurants, but is just as rich in flavour and symbolic of family, identity and culture.
"I think it's been absolutely amazing having this opportunity on national TV to cook food that the majority of people don't know about, but is really close to my heart," Lee tells Refinery29 Australia.
"It's what I grew up eating, and having the appreciation for it on a national platform has been a very transformative experience."
Lee says there's often a limited understanding among the masses of what constitutes Asian cuisine, and a generalised view that it's simple and not particularly sophisticated. But she says that introducing traditional recipes that are often "passed down in kitchens from mother to daughter" can help shift that perspective.
"We grow up eating pasta and appreciating Italian or French food, but there's never that type of appreciation for Asian food," she explains.
"But to be able to bring it to everyone's living rooms and show them that Asian food isn't just Chinese takeout and there's so much more to that, is really incredible."
One of the show's judges, Melissa Leong, says that what Lee does with Taiwanese food this season reflects how MasterChef helps educate viewers about multicultural cooking that otherwise doesn't get the spotlight.
"The kinds of dishes that she's cooking are homestyle and humble and so special because you don't really get to see them," says Leong.
"You can't go out necessarily to a restaurant and order some of the dishes that she has cooked and so that's beautiful. What a gift for us, and what a gift for the MasterChef Australia audience to experience."
Image courtesy of Channel 10
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites judges Jock Zonfrillo, Melissa Leong and Andy Allen
Lee has always been passionate about food, but only recently developed the confidence to audition for MasterChef thanks to Leong, who became the first female judge in 2020.
"You don't see a lot of Asian women on TV," says Lee. "So when I saw Mel as one of the new judges, I felt really connected to her and just thought that maybe it's a sign that I should apply."
Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen return as judges in 2022 alongside Melissa Leong, after the trio replaced Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston two years ago. Lee says she's felt particularly comfortable sharing her Taiwanese cooking on the show because of Leong's shared cultural understanding.
"I love the past judges but I would probably think that my food's not good enough to present to them and I would be quite wary, quite intimidated to bring it through to them," Lee admits.
"But having Mel as part of the judges is different because it's that instant connection. You know she'll understand and appreciate it and then you feel a little bit more brave about bringing that type of food on the show."
Diversity is certainly a big asset to this year's season with contenders from all walks of life. There are 12 contestants from previous seasons (favourites) competing against 12 amateur home cooks (fans) in the kitchen.
Image courtesy of Channel 10
The cast of MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites
The favourites on the show this year 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).
The fans are Ali Stoner, Jenn Lee, Chris Tran, Daniel Lamble, Dulan Hapuarachchi, Harry Tomlinson, Keyma Vasquez Montero, Matt Landmark, Max Krapivsky, Melanie PerssonMontana Hughes and Steph Woon.
Watch the latest promo about Jenn Lee below:
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites continues at 7:30pm on Channel 10 and 10Play.
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