Melissa Leong’s tryst with dal, desi food, and the intricacies of cooking

MasterChef Australia’s first female judge describes what makes Indian cuisine special to her

Melissa Leong is a food and travel writer as well as TV and radio personality. Pic: http://www.fooderati.com.au/

Indian cuisine is among the world’s most ancient and diverse food cultures, according to Melissa Leong, a MasterChef Australia judge who has won immense popularity for her warmth and friendliness, fashion sense and obvious knowledge about the intricacies of cooking.

Leong, a food and travel writer as well as TV and radio personality, is the first female and first Asian judge on MasterChef Australia. With her on the judging panel are Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen. “I am honoured to be a part of this next chapter of such a beloved series,” she said in an email interaction with Indian Express.

While contesting in a reality show is tough, judging one is even tougher, going by shared experiences of those who’ve been there. On what she basically looks for in a contestant, Leong said: “I look for truth. In who people are, how they cook and what they bring to the table. And above all, it must be delicious, naturally!”

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Ancient and diverse

The 39-year-old food critic had endless praise for Indian food, and expressed her joy at the cuisine often taking the spotlight at the current season of MasterChef. “Indian cuisine is one of the world’s most ancient and diverse food cultures, and to see such regional specificity and to have these contestants so beautifully articulate is what makes it so special — that’s a thrill for me,” she told the interviewer.

So, what’s her favourite Indian dish?

Also read: Masterchef contestant cooks up a rage with this tweaked Kerala delicacy

“Dal,” came the answer. “Dal will always have my heart. It is the most humble of foods, but takes a lot of skill to make delicious. To me as an outsider, it is part of the soul of Indian culture and I think that’s very special.”

Further, Leong expressed hopes to visit India, not just for the food, but also for its “vibrance, diversity and energy”. “I think I’d want to see as many regions as I can. I’m a big believer in digging deep when I travel to a new place,” she said.

All for diversity

Prior to MasterChef, Leong had co-hosted The Chefs’ Line with chefs Dan Hong and Mark Olive for two seasons. On storming a male bastion to be become MasterChef Australia’s first female judge, she said: “It is an honour and not one I hold lightly. I think now that I am two seasons in, it’s less about myself and more about signalling to others who haven’t adequately been seen, that their time is coming.”

Sharing her experiences on shooting the show amid the pandemic, Leong said it was a challenge, but one that the team got through. “We have the best production and crew in television, I truly believe that,” she told the interviewer.

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