What It’s Really Like To Work With Poh Ling Yeow & Sofia Levin On MasterChef Australia

In the MasterChef kitchen, things are pretty sweet. A haven for heartwarming stories and great food, we'd be lying if we say we didn't get a little emotional during some of the episodes.
After the departure of Melissa Leong and the sad passing of Jock Zonfrillo, the 2024 season of MasterChef Australia has had a shake-up in the judging panel, with three new faces joining Andy Allen each episode. Two of these are food writer and journalist Sofia Levin, and Poh Ling Yeow, who we've seen on our screens for many years — from the first season of MasterChef Australia to hosting her own cooking show.
Many fans have wondered what Melissa Leong was like to work with behind the scenes (spoiler alert: she was fantastic!), and the same curiosities have extended to the new women in the judging panel. So we asked two current MasterChef Australia contestants about what Ling Yeow and Levin are like to work with. Unsurprisingly, it's all sweet as pie.

"Aunty Poh, every time she lets you in on her aura, you just feel at peace. She just has a way of calming you."

MasterChef Australia contestant Mimi Wong on judge Poh Ling Yeow
For 2024 Masterchef contestant Mimi Wong, her experiences with the judges were uniquely relatable because of her job as a high school teacher. "I watched them through a pane of glass of being a teacher," Wong tells Refinery29 Australia. "Especially for Poh to come back here in the capacity of a mentor and a teacher essentially. You can tell that they completely have their heart in this season."
It's something Wong resonated deeply with in her own teaching career. "I definitely did the same thing with my first classes as well — you're just so careful and you want them to learn everything and you want them to feel everything and do everything," Wong says. "[Poh and Sofia] have that attention and care in everything that they say and do and every interaction that we have with them."
Wong affectionately refers to Ling Yeow as "Aunty Poh", admiring her natural ability to empathise with the contestants in the 2024 season of MasterChef Australia. "Aunty Poh, every time she lets you in on her aura, you just feel at peace. She just has a way of calming you — because she makes me feel seen and understood because she's been in our place twice and she understands it," Wong explains. "She has a way of looking at you and already knowing what's going through your brain and being able to address that part of your brain before you're even able to articulate the feelings that you're going through, which is awesome."
When it comes to Levin, Wong admires her ability to make contestants like her feel "seen", admiring her broad understanding of food and reliability. "Sofia, having her journalist and travel background, that relatability really helps in a lot of ways to feel relevant and seen," Wong says.
Wong explains that if there's one thing she appreciated most about Levin, it was her understanding of food and cultural experiences. "I really appreciated that part of Sofia and her storytelling. The way that she would describe our food or tell us how we can do it better or even just down to how we plated it better. Her insight really helped."

"She really thinks about food in a very fragmented way, so you can actually pick up the little nuggets that she's saying."

Masterchef Australia contestant Sumeet Saigal on judge Sofia Levin
Contestant Sumeet Saigal's experience with Levin and Ling Yeow was just as glowing. "They're so beautiful, both of them," she tells Refinery29 Australia. "Every time I walked into the kitchen, I was just blown away by their outfits — I was literally telling Sofia that she could wear a rucksack and still look stunning!"
Aside from their gorgeous 'fits, Saigal says that the two judges are "incredible mentors". For Ling Yeow, Saigal admires how approachable she is. "When I talk about Poh, she is just the most gorgeous soul and it just shines from her. So approachable, actually cares, completely feels for you, so empathetic."
"Because she's been on both sides of the table, she could really relate to the emotions we were going through — whether it was a pressure test or elimination or a mystery box. Because she's had such a beautiful career and done so many things in her life, when we talk about our food dreams and inspiration, she actually gets it," Saigal shares. "She understands where we're coming from and what it means to us to be in that kitchen."
For Levin, the word Saigal uses is "incredible". "I was amazed at how she really understands food. There's a real depth in knowledge of the flavours — she's eaten every type of street food, every type of cuisine around the world. Her understanding is just so good."
"I would literally hang off her words... she knows this food and she understands what flavours are being highlighted for her. She actually gets it," Saigal continues. "She really thinks about food in a very fragmented way, so you can actually pick up the little nuggets that she's saying."
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