Melissa Leong Claps Back At Critics Who Undermine Her Competence As A MasterChef Judge

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MasterChef Australia judge Melissa Leong
Back in 2020, MasterChef Australia replaced its decade-long judging panel (Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston) with a new trio of judges: food critic Melissa Leong, ex-MasterChef winner Andy Allen and professional chef Jock Zonfrillo. At the time, Leong arguably received the most attention.
As the first woman (and woman of colour) on the permanent judging panel, her casting was praised as a move towards greater representation on Australian TV. But her role also attracted far more criticism than her white male counterparts about everything from her relationships to the way she carries herself on screen.
As the food critic prepares to judge MasterChef for the fourth year in 2023, she's once again facing criticism about her involvement with the show. Over the weekend, Leong shared some comments from a disgruntled viewer on her Instagram Stories, who questioned the TV star's competence as a cooking show judge.
"They scraped the bottom of the barrel when they went searching for new judges. How many restaurants did she [Leong] have when they interviewed her? None. Was she a world renowned food critic like [former judge] Matt Preston. NO. As I said scraped the bottom of the barrel," read the comments.
"Haven’t owned restaurants, just written for half a dozen of Australia’s highest profile publications for over a decade," Leong wrote as a response. "It’s ok though, us non-white males are used to [being] overlooked. It’s how you don’t see us coming till we’ve arrived."
Singaporean-Chinese Leong, who grew up in Australia after her parents migrated from Singapore in the 1970s, has worked her way up in the TV and food biz after studying economics at university. She was a co-host and judge on SBS cooking show The Chef's Line in 2017 and 2018.
"If that’s scraping the bottom of the barrel, Gerrard, it must be very hard to see me from your lofty seat in the clouds doing … what is it you do exactly?"

"In order to just exist in the same spaces, I don't think a lot of people understand that we [people of colour] need to be twice as good and work twice as hard."

Melissa leong
In her social media post, Leong highlighted her writing achievements and the high-profile names she's worked with in the food industry.
"There’s also about half a dozen or so cookbooks and magazines I’ve ghostwritten, edited or subbed, not to mention working with industry legends like Marco Pierre White, Gelato Messina, Zumbo, MLA and more," she wrote.
Leong referred to him as an "armchair prince", before ending her response with one final telling line. "FYI, I am writing this while sitting in my house, that I bought all by myself, with my unqualified, ill-gotten gains. Cheers," she wrote.
Speaking to Refinery29 Australia afterwards, Leong says that the commenter's distasteful remarks highlight the double standard that many people of colour face, not only in the media industry, but in other fields as well. They so often feel they must work harder to prove themselves worthy of being where they are, as they simultaneously suffer imposter syndrome or face racial stigma in the workplace.
"In order to just exist in the same spaces, I don't think a lot of people understand that we [people of colour] need to be twice as good and work twice as hard," says Leong.
While she was the only MasterChef judge to be nominated for the coveted Gold Logie in 2022, Leong's popularity and competence have continually been questioned. She says she rarely gives oxygen to hateful remarks, but this occasion was different.
Choosing to speak up this week was important, with Leong telling R29AU, "We shouldn’t bark at every car that drives past, but occasionally there’s merit in publicly standing up for yourself".
While her "career achievements may not be traditional or linear", she is proud of having carved her own path, informed by lessons she's learned along the way. She says she takes her job seriously in supporting contestants on the MasterChef, and "by learning about what it is that they're cooking and why, it’s how I help them share their story".
"I don’t feel the pressing need to prove myself and my achievements to people, but that make no mistake, I have bled for my career and to suggest I got here by accident is quite frankly, ridiculous," she says.
Leong will return as a judge on MasterChef Australia: Secrets & Surprises alongside Zonfrillo and Allen when it premieres on Monday, May 1 on Channel 10 and 10Play.
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