People Are Praising Last Night’s Diverse ‘MasterChef’ Mystery Box For Its Asian Representation

But some of the judges are under-fire for their insensitive comments.

masterchef representation diversity

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

Last night, the MasterChef: Back To Win contestants participated in the season’s first Mystery Box challenge.

With ingredients chosen by Singaporean Australian judge Melissa Leong, the contestants were greeted with a bunch of ingredients not often seen in the MasterChef kitchen.

Providing the cooks with 75 minutes and an Asian-inspired box, Melissa chose to include ingredients like taro, black vinegar, galangal, Chinese five spice, and chicken feet. Unsurprisingly, some of the white contestants had never used some of the featured ingredients, while the Asian contestants in the room — an impressive seven of them, to be exact — rose to the occasion.

As the contestants got stuck into the challenge, a number of contestants opted for yum cha-inspired dishes while others took a more experimental approach. Mainly Simon, who decided to use the chicken feet to make a jelly-turned-mousse and Ben, who chose to make a chicken feet caramel.

Meanwhile, on the more traditional side of things, Brendan decided to make a dish close to his heart: wontons. While forming the dumplings for his chicken feet broth, Brendan spoke to Melissa about why her Mystery Box choices meant so much to him as a Mauritian-Chinese Australian.

Bonding over their shared experience of learning to make dumplings with family from a young age, Brendan expressed his delight in having a judge around who just gets it.

“It’s really nice to have that connection with Melissa,” Brendan said. “She understands that for me it was such a special time in my life.”

For the fellow Asian Australians watching from home, it immediately became clear that this was the first time that the Asian community was represented authentically in the 12 seasons MasterChef has been on air. While there have been Asian contestants and cuisines featured on the show, the addition of an Asian judge has solidified the importance and impact of real representation and diversity on-screen.

However, last night’s episode also reminded us why this continued representation is so important. While chatting to Melissa about her choice in ingredients, Jock and Andy — the two white judges on the panel — had some questionable descriptions of the included items.

With Andy referring to Melissa’s choices as “evil” because of the inclusion of chicken feet and with Jock calling the box his “worst nightmare”, the casual racism in the room was rampant.

“These are not ingredients in my kitchen,” the pair continued.

But instead of apologising for the featured ingredients, Melissa simply explained that her goal was to have the cooks experiment with ingredients they might not have been previously exposed to. Mainly, her focus was to have the contestants leave with a “new-found appreciation” for these exact ingredients they’re unfamiliar with.

And for the Asian Australians watching, this unnecessary need to justify one’s culture and foods was an all-too familiar feeling. For those who brought “weird” lunch to school that wasn’t a Vegemite sandwich like their friends, for those who packed tea boxes instead of poppers, and for those whose snacks were deemed “gross” growing up — this Mystery Box was for them.

Especially in the time of coronavirus, love and appreciation for Asian — and, in particular, Chinese — cuisine and ingredients is needed now more than ever.

Thankfully, with Melissa now on the judging panel, MasterChef looks like it’s taking a step in the right direction. Long gone are the days where only risottos and grilled meats are praised on TV, and where the use of varied ingredients are no longer seen as “controversial”.

Welcome to the age of exploring different cultures, ingredients and cuisines — without apology or explanation.

MasterChef: Back To Win is back on tonight at 7.30pm on Channel 10.