Australia Melissa Leong Talks Coffee, Comfort Food and How MasterChef Connects People

11:10  20 october  2020
11:10  20 october  2020 Source:   popsugar.com.au

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Food critic and travel writer Melissa Leong is the first female judge to join the reality cooking show MasterChef Australia. Like people all over the world right now, I’m making comfort food . Times are so uncertain and from once glance on social media, you can see everyone is baking bread, making

MasterChef Stars Explain Why Melissa Leong Is 'Needed On Australian TV'. 'It's Important As Women Of Colour To Speak About Mental Health' ' MasterChef Australia: Back To Win' judge Melissa Leong . “I love that emotion that food can throw out and so she’s really good at capturing all that with

a person wearing a dress: Network Ten © Network Ten Network Ten

Melissa Leong has been the breakout star of MasterChef this year — even though she's been a leading figure in the Australian foodie scene for years as a writer, presenter and broadcaster.

Fans praised her not only for her eloquent criticisms, but the way the Chinese-Singaporean Australian brought a new cultural understanding to the long-running reality series — one which saw Back to Win contestants open up about their cultural heritage and share stories of growing up with someone who has more of an understanding their experience. She's also been open and honest this year about her experiences with Pyrrole disorder and depression, offering some solace to people also struggling.

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But Melissa isn't just a super fashionable writer and critic, with her regular Destination Dish column in Escape, she cooks too, and like any Melburnian, knows a thing or two about coffee.

We talked to the Nescafé Farmers Origins Ambassador this morning about how her Melbourne lockdown comfort food, how coffee fuels her wanderlust and what we can learn from the cute kids on Junior MasterChef.

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PS: It seems like a lot of people tuned into both iterations of MasterChef this year when looking for comfort during the pandemic. What about the show do you think feels so much like a warm hug, at a time when we're not really allowed to hug?

Melissa: Isn't it a strange thing? It's been wonderful to feel like we can provide a little bit of fun and entertainment and love and joy through food during such a difficult time. That's just really testament to the power of food. We are all connected through our love of it, and, through that love of food, we can learn about each other's cultures and we can find that common ground and comfort in really trying times like these. The fact that the show's DNA is based on the focus of food, that's something that will never change and that's a reason why people continue to tune into MasterChef and to love it so much.

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Melissa Leong is a personal finance writer, national media personality, speaker and bestselling author. She’s the resident money expert on Canada’s leading daytime talk show, The Social on CTV. And today she joins me on Informed Choice Radio to talk about money and happiness, two subjects we're

Who is Melissa Leong ? A freelance food and travel writer, Leong 's website proclaims she will "eat Leong is a first generation Singaporean-Australian and has co-authored six cookbooks including Former MasterChef judges Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris hosted the show

PS: Are there any strategies that you've put in place to cope with COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne?

Melissa: Self-care is the theme of 2020, isn't it, and it's come just in time as well. I think that we all know that we push ourselves quite far and quite hard in life and this year has forced us to slow down and really examine what's important to us. Things like taking care of ourselves and finding the little things that give us joy and that give us a little bit of energy and respite are really, really important.

PS: Is there anything in particular that you've sourced comfort from?

Melissa: Obviously food. Food is just part of my DNA in a way, because my parents are from Singapore and so we were born to be obsessed with food. There's always a wonderful comfort to be had in the cooking of it and the ritual of that and also the feeding of the people that we love. I've definitely found myself making bulk noodles and huge trays of lasagna or soups or stews and making sure that I make extra for friends and dropping it around to people that are going through a bit of a tough time. That's been something that's definitely helped me and also helped me to stay connected with my friends.

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Melissa Jameson. Keep the peppers whole, or slice them into bites (or "boats") to turn them into kid-friendly finger food . This data is an integral part of how we operate our site, make revenue to support our staff, and generate relevant content for our audience.

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I really love exercise and exercise has always been really important to me. Just taking that time to stretch and to be away from devices and just be with yourself, I think that that's been really helpful for me.

PS: What's your go-to comfort food?

Melissa: It depends on the day! I have a few things. Whenever I'm really sick or I'm really feeling a bit down, there are a couple of dishes that I always reach for. One of them is congee, so Chinese rice porridge, usually with preserved, century egg and pork — that's my favourite one and that's something that I will always go to. Sticky rice as well. If you go to yum cha at all, it's called lo mai gai. It's a lotus leaf-wrapped parcel of sticky rice that in the centre has all of this beautiful braised chicken and shiitake mushrooms and salted egg yolk. There's just something really nostalgic for me about it because every Sunday I would go to yum cha with my parents growing up.

Those are kind of the things I go to, and then the other thing as well is just a really good chicken soup. My best friend Carolyn taught me how to make her grandmother's proper Jewish chicken soup and it's still a recipe I use today. It's a hug in a bowl and I think you need to know how to cook at least one of those things for yourself.

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PS: Have you found that your urge to go travelling has increased now that some people aren't even able to travel interstate?

Melissa: I'm one of those people! We've just been released from 5kms to 25kms, which is a giant luxury here in Victoria. It's quite ironic that I was given my first permanent travel column in Escape during the pandemic because I'm writing about travel weekly at the moment and I can't really go anywhere physically, so I have to revisit places in my mind and the dishes that I'm reminded of from those places. It's pretty funny.

I am dreaming of getting out there and seeing the world again. That's always been part of who I am. I get that itchy feet feeling to just get on a plane and go somewhere that's completely different. I think this is a wonderful opportunity — certainly in the next 12 months we won't be leaving Australia — to really appreciate this incredibly diverse and amazing continent that we get to call home. I'm really looking forward to continuing that exploration for me and I really encourage other people to do the same.

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PS: Where are you most looking forward to travelling to when lockdown lifts?

Melissa: I went on assignment to Darwin and to Alice Springs a little while ago and when we were in Darwin we got on our day off to go to Litchfield National Park, which is the most incredible place. It just feels like you're in an episode of Star Wars or something. It's these red rocks and these watering holes that have worn away the sandstone over thousands of years and it just feels like this incredibly ancient, beautiful places that you're so lucky to be in. If we had an extra couple of days, I would have gone to the Kimberley, because that's really somewhere that's been on my bucket list ever since I had a bucket list.

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I'm really looking forward to exploring a lot of the Northern Territory, a lot of the Top End, and really going out bush as well. I think that the desert is a really magical place, no matter which desert you're talking about on the planet, and we have some of the most incredible places here. Places like the Flinders Ranges, I've been to the edge of before, and that impossibly red soil is something that is just truly magical and you can't really appreciate it until you're there. It's red earth and it's blindingly cornflower blue sky and nothing else. It is really transporting and there's really nothing like it anywhere else.

PS: How do you tap into those travel foodie memories in order to write about them?

Melissa: I take photos of meals I've eaten that are memorable to me and I keep them like a lot of people keep photos of their pets on their phone [laughs]. They go back years. When I lived in rural Tasmania and the first time my chicks laid eggs, I still have a photo of the first eggs they laid and the herbs and the greens that I collected from my garden that I grew, and the omelette that I made with it. It's really special to keep those kinds of things.

The last place I went overseas before all of this happened was Morocco and I just have the most incredible pictures of people and produce that's at the market, the Medina of Fez, and incredible feasts that we got to eat.

The idea of the column is, it's called Destination Dish, so it's writing about a dish and then connecting the sense of place to it. I go through my phone and I look at all of these incredible meals and I think about where I was and how I was feeling and what the context was and then I bring about a story through that.

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It's quite special to be able to reflect on how lucky we are to, first of all, eat, eat regularly and eat well — I think that that's something that we forget that not everyone in the world has the opportunity to do, so we're very, very lucky — and then also obviously the good fortune of being able to see the world and to be able to appreciate other people's cultures from all over the planet.

PS: What kind of things have you learned about yourself as a person — and as a foodie — from those travel experiences?

Melissa: I always appreciate the fact that the easiest way to experience someone else's culture is through food, so whenever you go somewhere, as much as I love me a hotel buffet, I like to just go out there and see where locals are eating and the longest line, because you know obviously that's the best place. You find the most crowded local place and you eat what everyone else is eating and you suddenly have a very tangible appreciation for where you are in the world and the culture that you happen to be immersing yourself in. It's just a really important way of appreciating the culture that you happen to be visiting.

When you travel, it's not about bringing your own comforts of home necessarily, but it's really about putting yourself out of your comfort zone and just appreciating someone else's life experience for a minute and just listening and learning. You do that through eating and through just using all of your senses and sometimes putting down your phone and absorbing it with your own eyes and your own senses.

PS: Is there anything that you've been doing — or say drinking — during lockdown that's given you a taste of international travel?

Melissa: I'm not even lying to you — I am drinking a cup of Nescafe. I do it now without even thinking. I'm that person that can't go without their morning coffee. At the moment, I'm a two a day [person], two in the morning, so one first thing and then one mid-morning.

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Nescafe approached me and said, Hey, we're releasing these first-ever pods and they're single origin, which I think, for me, as a food writer, is really, really important, because it really encapsulates the time and the place of a piece of produce.

Whether or not that is a food or a dish or indeed tea or coffee, and coffee in this instance, it really does typify the place that it's grown and the fact that it all comes from one region, it's harvested by people who understand the land. That really does give you quite a transportive experience.

I'm drinking the espresso from India today and it really elicits the bustling, intense nature of travelling through India. You do get transported by things like smell, for example, which are incredibly important. When you start to understand the notes of what you're looking for, you can really travel in your mind, which is really the only option we have at the moment. Travelling through eating, travelling through produce, is a really great way to appreciate what we have now and then when we get to actually get on planes and go places hopefully we'll be inspired to visit the places that produce the things that we love to consume.

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PS: Like MasterChef before it, Junior MasterChef is being praised for representing how diverse really Australia is. How do these portrayals inspire young people?

Melissa: MasterChef has always been — way prior to me, it's part of the DNA of the show — about celebrating diversity. It's a wonderful conversation to be having and a very crucial conversation to be having in terms of the way we see ourselves and the way we represent our country as well. We are made up of so many diverse perspectives and stories and they need to be heard and the faces of those stories need to be seen. So it's wonderful to be part of a show that continues to celebrate each and every one of those stories that comes across our path and hopefully furthers a conversation in people's homes about who we are as a nation and how we identify ourselves.

PS: It's really lovely watching it happen on Junior MasterChef and that being something that young people are watching and seeing themselves represented.

Melissa: Our juniors were just the most inspirational people to be around. When it was pitched to me that Junior was happening, I was so excited because I just thought, Well, this will be really fun. But what I wasn't prepared for was to learn so much from them in terms of resilience, and in terms of just how excited and proud they are of their families, and their wonderful way of articulating each of their family stories. When Dev cooked that full-on northern Indian feast and was able to introduce us to his family, that's a privilege. It's not only a privilege for us to eat it, but for the rest of Australia to be able to experience that in some way as well. And same thing with Tiffany and her father's Hungarian family and to be able to eat a chilled cherry soup — I've never had anything like that before.

To be able to really talk about diversity and talk about representation and for each kid to feel so proud of where they come from and their roots, not only being Australian but coming from somewhere else in the world, we all have a story like that. Each and every one of us has a story like that. I hope that what it's doing is furthering conversations with kids all around the country and their families as well.

PS: And it's so exciting to watch the kids cook without anxiety — they're just excited to be there!

Melissa: As adults, we forget about things like play, how important play is, and treating things as a fun challenge. When you set a challenge for them in that MasterChef kitchen, and they are so tiny and this kitchen is so huge, they treat everything with this wonderful sense of play. Yes, they know it's a competition, and yes, there will be a winner, but at the same time, what they relish is the opportunity to challenge themselves. When we get older we sort of take on layers of baggage, we start to be afraid of failure, and I think that can limit ourselves in terms of what we can actually achieve.

One really great example was recently when Tiffany's panna cotta didn't set and she, in the end, still brought up a plate and she was still proud of it and the flavours were still legitimately fantastic. But what she realised was that failure is not the end of the road, it is an opportunity to learn and to pick yourself up and move on with new knowledge. I think that we are very quick to discount that we know better than our younger generations, but actually I think we can learn a lot.

PS: And we can learn so much from watching the show and seeing the way they handle pressure in a really mature way when they could have a meltdown when things go wrong. I would have a meltdown!

Melissa: You would think that and there were no meltdowns! There was just beautiful camaraderie. When kids were on the edge of, Oh my goodness, I've forgotten to toast my pistachios, you have a friend say, Hey, have some of mine, I'll help you. Isn't that such a joyful, heartwarming thing to see our younger generations showing camaraderie, showing sportsmanship and cooperation? I just think it can't get much more inspiring than that.

Katy Perry EXCLUSIVE: Pop star takes a stroll on her 36th birthday .
Meanwhile, Katy's fiance Orlando Bloom, 43, clearly had her on his mind on Saturday as he swung by a jewelry store in Montecito, California. © Provided by Daily Mail Morning movement: Katy Perry celebrated another year around the sun by taking an early morning stroll around her Los Angeles neighborhood © Provided by Daily Mail Woman's best friend: Although Orlando was nowhere in sight, Katy brought her beloved pup Nugget to keep her company on her leisurely walk Although Orlando was nowhere in sight, Katy brought her beloved pup Nugget to keep her company on her leisurely walk.

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