Melissa Leong: Barriers can be broken with the breaking of bread

The food writer and MasterChef judge speaks candidly about culture and her path to fame.

By Kate Kachor


The food writer and MasterChef judge speaks candidly about culture and her path to fame.

By Kate Kachor

When Melissa Leong was growing up, her career path wasn’t paved towards stardom. It was stardom adjacent.

The much-loved Australian TV personality and food journalist candidly shared during a keynote at the FW Leadership Summit 2024 that for her, a career in the media initially appeared unlikely.

“Growing up in Australia, in the ‘80s for me, it was pretty clear in terms of media representation that it wasn’t entirely likely that I’d end up doing anything public facing,” she told FW Deputy Managing Director Jamila Rizvi in front of a packed crowd in Sydney. 

“But I love being involved in production and making something, so I always thought I’d be more behind the scenes than in front of things.”

For Leong, whose family are Singaporean with Chinese ancestry, her role models as a teenager were legendary Indonesian-born Australian journalist Lee Lin Chin and Chinese-born Australian celebrity chef Elizabeth Chong. That was it.

“There wasn’t a lot to be led by and I think that definitely shapes the way… there’s that cliché that ‘if you can see it, you can be it’ and it’s glib, but it’s true,” Leong said. 

“It’s a lot easier to be something if you know that it is possible, it’s available to you.”


Leong addresses a sold out FW Leadership Summit 2024


These days the MasterChef: Dessert Masters judge is among a growing list of women of colour in the spotlight. Her time in the food industry has afforded her opportunities to both represent and honour her heritage.

“I try to find ways of honouring my culture through the work that I get to do and that’s why something like MasterChef was so awesome,” she said.

“Because, on a very public stage, I could articulate the love of the kind of food I grew up with and why it meant so much to me and to show the emotion that is so worthy of that kind of our soul food, no matter where you come from.”

Yet, as much as she’s celebrated her culture, there have been times where the Gold Logie nominee has felt like she’s had to mask it at work.

“I think there are always times at work where we, in retrospect, know we should have spoken up and just kind of quietly let something flow past us whether or not that was about representation or not,” she said. 

“But as women in particular, we let a lot of things slide just for the sake of keeping the peace and I’ve learned, in my skin, not to bark at every car that passes me, I’ve learned to pick and choose my battles, and therefore hopefully make a deeper impact where it really counts for more than just myself.”

“Food has always had that magical capacity to transcend stereotypes and expectations that we have of each other as strangers.”

She has also experienced moments where she’s had to quieten her culture.

“I’ve had to just laugh at … I love the term ‘casual racism’, so casual,” she said, pointedly. 

“But it happens and you just kind of let it go. But it really hurts and people don’t necessarily do it to be malicious, to be harmful to be hurtful. But it hurts.”

It’s during these moments she’s reminded about the power of food and unity.

“Food can heal wounds. It can bring families back together again, it’s so deeply emotional, and so rooted in culture, in feeling, in togetherness, in nourishment,” she said. 

“That’s why I love food. That’s why I work in food and it does make me super happy to be part of this community that’s represented in the media as being a more inclusive place.

“Food has always had that magical capacity to transcend stereotypes and expectations that we have of each other as strangers. My favourite thing to do is when I’m traveling to a country that I’ve never been to before… the easiest way to get a vibe for where you’re at is to eat a meal. 

“It’s as simple as that. Barriers can be broken with the breaking of bread. I think that’s really lovely.”


Leong was interviewed by FW’s Rizvi at the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney


During their discussion, Leong touched on moments of self-doubt around fame in her career and the uncomfortable off-camera elements of her job.

“I am so lucky to do what I do. I am here because you guys watch what I do for work and I feel deeply honoured in that regard to be here,” she said.

“The attention, the undue attention, I will say, that women in the media have is cruel and unusual to say the least… I have to take that as the other side of the coin…. I get to do some beautiful things for work, I get to draw attention to important issues, I get to eat cake for work.” 

Image credits: Vienna Marie Creative

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