“I wasn’t hired to be a superfan”

She earned high praise for her style, grace and culinary expertise, but while Melissa Leong will happily sing the praises of the MasterChef Australia contestants she isn’t walking away from keeping it real in the kitchen.

“I can safely say, I’ll tell you if it’s good or not good,” she assures TV Tonight.

“I wasn’t hired to be a superfan. I’m here to tell you the truth about food. If it’s great, let’s celebrate that because we’re living in such precarious times… there’s cause for celebration and connection, we should we should really hold on to that.”

The 2021 season kicks off on Monday, after a late change in 10’s schedule, as amateur cooks again compete for the series title and a whopping $250,000 prize. It marks Leong’s third instalment of the franchise after 2020’s Back to Win season and a quickly-commissioned Junior MasterChef.

After the year that was, there are now cooks who have disrupted their lives to follow their dream.

“If not now, when?”

“If not now, when? We can all relate to that on some level because, sitting at home, witnessing history first-hand last year in that very tangible capacity, was an opportunity to be introspective. To really think about what makes us happy? What brings us joy in life?

“I think I can safely speak on behalf of Jock (Zonfrillo) & Andy (Allen) in this regard: we were shocked by the calibre of food from day one, meeting all of the people that did -and didn’t- make it into that Top 24. Extraordinary, really, really extraordinary. I think we can all be a bit jaded about statements like ‘best food ever’ and all the rest of it, but honestly, great food is great food! You have to be able to stop and say, ‘Wow, that’s incredible!’

“I can hand on my heart say, the food is just incredible”

“This year, I can hand on my heart say, the food is just incredible to start with… let alone where it goes. The fantastic part of it is watching people build on their techniques, starting to discover their culinary identity and grasping that a little bit stronger. It’s very, very inspiring to witness.”

Visiting the kitchen are audience favourites such as Poh Ling Yeow, Reynold Poernomo, Callum Hann and Emelia Jackson, but while International chefs Nigella Lawson, Yotam Ottolenghi, Massimo Bottura, Clare Smyth and Heston Blumenthal may feature on the show, travel restrictions will dictate those as a virtual appearance.

“Of course, we don’t have the opportunities to travel overseas and do things on top of pyramids or whatever it happens to be,” Leong continues.

“We have some of the best raw produce to work with in the world, right here”

“But we need to remember and value the fact that Australian producers are some of the best in the world. We have some of the best raw produce to work with in the world, right here. To be able to celebrate some of that, right at the source has been a great privilege.

“This year is a really wonderful year for a celebration of South Asian cuisine. We have a number of tremendously-talented home cooks from Sri Lanka and different parts of India. They’re just bringing a calibre of food and a degree of regional specificity, and sophistication that Australia really hasn’t seen before.

“My being relatively new to Victoria, where we have the largest Greek community in the country…. who are truly equally Australian and Greek and want to be able to celebrate both with great style and personality, has also been incredible.

“It’s the easiest way to experience someone else’s culture”

“We need to remember, in such trying times, that this country is a wonderfully multicultural place, and you can learn so much about your neighbours and about the people in your community through food. It’s the easiest way to experience someone else’s culture.

“We continue to be able to celebrate them on a show like MasterChef, and perhaps appeal for a little bit more harmony in that regard.”

MasterChef Australia begins 7:30pm Monday April 19 on 10.

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