TV

Melissa Leong Is Easily The Best Part Of ‘MasterChef’ This Season And Last Night Proved It

"I love Melissa, she just floats around, eats the food, banters with the contestants and dresses like a princess. And, honestly? What else do you need in life?"

melissa leong masterchef best

When Network 10 announced that MasterChef was returning in 2020 with all new judges, people were skeptical of the change.

After all, George Calombaris, Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston were the only judges on the show for an entire decade. But now that we’re officially one month into the new season, it’s evident that Australia are barely missing the old judges.

Switching things up, MasterChef made a great decision in hiring celebrity chef Jock Zonfrillo, competition alum Andy Allen, and food writer Melissa Leong as the competitions newest judging panel. This change, along with the fan favourite-filled cast of the Back To Win season, even scored MasterChef its highest-rating premiere since 2015.

Unlike other cooking shows that focus on drama (i.e. My Kitchen Rules)MasterChef has found a sweet spot with fans, who like watching nice people and good food. But beyond the returning contestants, this idea of nice people manifests itself through one judge in particular, and that is Melissa Leong.

Since the season’s premiere, people online have spoken nothing but praise for the food writer, who had to battle not only being the first female judge on the show, but the first person of colour too. Beyond her great fashion sense and magical food-proof lipstick, Melissa’s presence and banter has injected some much needed joy into the show.

From sneaking snacks off the ingredients table to answering a restaurants phone mid-sentence, Melissa has proved that cooking shows don’t need to take themselves so seriously. And it’s a real stark difference to the competitive and negative nature of the show’s previous seasons when Matt, George and Gary ruled over the contestants.

But what last night’s elimination episode proved, was that even though the new judges are a breath of fresh air, the competition just isn’t good if Melissa isn’t present. This was really noticeable when Melissa left the MasterChef kitchen to wait for her food to be be delivered during the challenge.

Leaving Jock and Andy on their own, people watching at home quickly noticed just how boring the boys were on their own. After being left to their own devices, Jock and Andy simply just walked around the MasterChef kitchen trying to pull drama from where it didn’t exist. Noting that Chris seemed too calm for their liking, or that Tracy was being too emotional, all the way to making a big deal out of Ben deciding to cook an egg two different ways, the boys didn’t really know where to take the challenge.

This was only made more evident when it came down to critiquing the dishes, an area that both Andy and Jock have being falling behind in. Giving the most minimal, surface-level judging imaginable, it really started to feel like the boys were critiquing the food on a yes/no/maybe scale instead of analysing what was in front of them.

Meanwhile, from the comfort of her own dining room, Melissa managed to describe the food beyond the season’s usual buzzwords of “banging” and “cracking” and actually judged the food on the criteria that was set out for the challenge — mainly, whether the dishes were MasterChef-quality plates that could withstand the test of delivery.

This more in-depth type of judging is one of the many reasons why Melissa is an essential part of the show. Actually describing what she’s tasting for the viewers at home adds so much more than just calling something “delicious” — as Andy and Jock often do.

Beyond this, Melissa’s ability to approach different foods with an open-mind is something that she’s been praised for throughout the season. Most recently, we saw this when Amina served Korean rice balls during last week’s immunity challenge. While preparing her dish, Amina noted she already knew that Andy and Jock wouldn’t understand the rice balls, but that Melissa would.

And Amina was right. Andy and Jock criticised the rice balls calling them “greasy” and “like last night’s fried rice” while Melissa defended the dish. This demonstrates the importance of having an open-minded judge like Melissa on the show and highlights why representation is so important. If Melissa wasn’t on the judging panel, Amina wouldn’t have won the challenge based on the critiques from the white judges who just didn’t even try to understand the dish.

This representation was also evident in Melissa’s Mystery Box challenge, where she purposefully included unique Asian ingredients like chicken feet. During the episode, Brendan expressed his delight over finally having a judge who understood what he was doing. Cooking a dish that he learned from his grandmother, Brendan’s wontons represented more than just food — it was a very specific familial connection and experience that many Asians grew up with but had yet to see on mainstream TV.

But beyond giving the Asian contestants the opportunity to use ingredients they’re familiar with, this challenge also gave a voice to the Asian-Australians who grew up being teased about the “weird” and “gross” foods of their culture — something that still obviously still happens to this day, judging by Jock and Andy’s negative reactions to the included items.

Calling the Mystery Box “a nightmare” and “evil”, the white judges proved that this stigma against Asian cuisine and ingredients is still very much alive — even within the cooking industry as Andy and Jock are literal chefs.

This is why Melissa Leong is not only a good addition to MasterChef, but an essential part. Providing elevated, smart critiques, much-needed moments of joy, the representation that has long been lacking and the best fashion the show has ever seen, Melissa is the heart and soul of MasterChef — and it really makes you wonder how MasterChef ever existed without the Melissa Leong.