06/05/2020 2:52 PM AEST | Updated 02/07/2020 1:07 PM AEST

MasterChef Australia's Melissa Leong On Diversity And How Her Judge Role Is A 'Timely Move'

"Growing up in a neighbourhood that wasn’t dominated by people who looked like me, I always wanted to be understood."

Channel 10
MasterChef Australia: Back To Win judge Melissa Leong

‘MasterChef Australia: Back To Win’ judge Melissa Leong has opened up about always wanting to be understood for who she is as an Australian woman with Chinese-Singaporean heritage.

Speaking to ‘Neighbours’ actress Sharon Johal on her podcast, ‘We Are The Real Ones’, the 38-year-old said she takes her job on ‘MasterChef’ very seriously, knowing her casting is another step towards greater representation on Australian TV. 

“Being of a Chinese Singaporean descent growing up in Australia in a neighbourhood that wasn’t particularly dominated by people who looked like me, I always wanted to be understood,” said Melissa.

For several years Melissa has worked as a food writer, and explained her passion for words stemmed from this notion of identity.

“No matter who I became and what I ended up doing for work, I just always wanted to make sure that I was understood, which is why writing was so important to me in the beginning. Not because I considered myself a writer, but I just knew if I was going to write, I was going to be understood so let’s just be the best at that.” 

This year Melissa stepped in as a new ‘MasterChef’ judge alongside Andy Allen and Jock Zonfrillo. 

She said Channel 10 casting her “was a very brave move but it’s a timely move” because television “needs to include all of us”. 

“For me, television has augmented my role in representation maybe a little bit more than I would’ve thought. I’m just me trying to survive and do jobs that make me happy and challenge me,” she explained.  

Channel 10
'MasterChef Australia: Back To Win' judges Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo

“But then the second I stepped onto television and I sort of received a little bit more feedback from people saying, ‘Hey thank you for being you in this space because I see a little bit of myself, I’m really happy that my children get to watch someone who looks like you on our screens’... that was the turning point where I stopped being so flippant about it.

“I thought, ‘Ok it’s not curing cancer by any means, but each and every one of us and our stories and our backgrounds matter’.”

Melissa said some people are afraid of speaking about diversity and representation, but that won’t stop her from being open about it.  

“I think a lot of people hear the word diversity and think, ‘Oh I don’t want to know about that’.

“And for me, diversity is not the detriment of excluding people. Diversity to me means inclusivity.

Channel 10
'MasterChef Australia: Back To Win' judges Jock Zonfrillo, Melissa Leong and Andy Allen

“It means even representation for all walks of life, for the able and the differently abled, for everyone from different parts of the world who speak different languages to be understood, to be seen, to be valued and not to be overlooked. That to me is really important.” 

On ‘MasterChef Australia: Back To Win’ this year, Melissa, Andy Allen and Jock Zonfrillo have replaced former judges Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston.

There are 24 previous contestants including Poh Ling Yeow, Hayden Quinn, Reynold Poernomo and Callum Hann who have returned to the series for another shot at victory.