There are jobs and there are DREAM JOBS. Being sent to Slovenia with Nikki To last year was definitely one of them, and I’m thrilled with how the story came together in the March issue of delicious. Australia, out today. I cannot express to you how incredible this tiny country is, I hope you enjoy the story! You can find it in print in newsagents, and online later in the month. But for now, support newspapers and magazines and go pick one up!
It takes a lot of guts to get up in front of your peers on a global stage and speak out against negative issues, no matter your world of work. For the global food industry, the rise of celebrity chef culture and the ever blurring lines between commercial partnerships, talent and content, has led to a shocking decline in ethics and transparent engagement with consumers.
You buy a product because a chef you admire endorses it, but what are they really getting out of it…and is it any good for you? We’re yet to reach the dizzying heights of Kardashian Sponsored Kontent, ala, Kendall Jenner’s shocking display of vulnerability, paid for by acne skincare giant Proactive, but we’re not far off.
At Food On The Edge 2018, a symposium held in Galway, Ireland in late 2018, South African Australian chef and restaurateur Duncan Welgemoed of Adelaide’s Africola, spoke on the responsibility we have in the face of the popularisation of the food industry, as our profiles and spheres of influence expand. There is deep catharsis in hearing someone publicly say what we are all thinking, because not all of us have the platform or the guts to say it ourselves. A worthy 11 or so minutes of your day, whether you work in food or not. Video shared via Fine Dining Lovers.
What foods do you reach for when things are tough? Do you have a go-to recipe that you make for people when they’re going through a hard time? Is it a tray of lasagne? Chicken soup? Congee? On the 10th anniversary of Victoria’s tragic Black Saturday fires, Richelle Hunt and I talk about the role that food plays in times of grief and strife. A HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who shared their very personal stories and dishes with me; the top dishes were all simple foods with a huge emphasis on carbohydrates and proteins and clean flavours, which goes to my point about the foods we truly crave…they don’t involve foams, soils and skid marks.
The overwhelming favourites were:
Pasta - especially lasagne (SO many votes for lasagne!), but also simple dishes like alio e olio, and good old spaghetti Bolognese.
Curries - dhal and rice, lots of lentils and chickpeas. Listen to my radio segment for my own personal memory of food in times of grief.
Eggs - boiled, scrambled, poached, the simplicity of basic foods is beautiful.
Buttered toast - I can definitely attest to this one. My mum used to make me toast with equal parts honey and butter, or sometimes, just plain white bread, buttered and sprinkled with white sugar on top.
Congee, or rice soup in multiple cultures - starchy, rich, savoury goodness.
Chicken - roasted, Hainanese style and even fried.
Soups and stews - Ugly delicious at its best.
It’s the year of the pig, if you follow the Chinese zodiac. What does it mean? Just like those juicy, sweet little porcine beauties, the year is set to be prosperous one, full of fortune and luck. Along with the very fabulous Dami Im, I spoke to journalist Penny Carroll about what symbolic foods you should have on the table during the Lunar New Year to encourage good health, longevity and prosperity.
Throughout 2018, I had such fun occasionally popping up on the ABC Radio Melbourne with Richelle Hunt on her Afternoons program. So I am THRILLED to announce that in 2019, I will be a series regular on her show, to talk about food, social politics and the media. Click the above link to hear our chat this week; from the #10yearChallenge, to why it’s more than just trivial that Sandra Oh is having her time in the Hollywood sun, we talk about Lo Mai Gai, our favourite home cooking recipes…and our shared nostalgia over the local neighbourhood pharmacy.
Pop culture may seem trivial but then again, so much in this world is right now. So we take the good where we can get it, and today that came in the form of the incredible Canadian actor Sandra Oh, not only hosting the Golden Globe Awards, but winning Best Female TV Actor. In doing so, she became the first Asian woman in 38 years to win the award.
Months ago when the film adaptation of the book Crazy Rich Asians was released, I wondered why it hit me so emotionally to see female lead Constance Wu on the cover of Time Magazine. Then I read an interview with Sandra Oh by The Hollywood Reporter and it all made sense.
“Just speaking for my own community, people cried a lot in [‘Crazy Rich Asians’], and it’s not only because it’s a great story and a classic romantic comedy — it is because seeing yourself reflected onscreen is really emotional when you don’t even know that you’re carrying so much grief of never being seen.”
To be seen, regardless of who you are, is to matter. Oh’s words resonate with so many because we all need to feel like the space we take up in this world means something. This conversation we’ve been having in popular culture about diversity isn’t a novelty to ping ratings, or to push an agenda. It’s a far-to-late one, highlighting the need to represent our world for who we are. All of us. Every face, race and perspective.
Thank you to the fabulous website Draw Your Box, for pushing the conversation forward for women of colour, and for mentioning my little social media fist pump on the Divine Lady Oh’s many reasons to celebrate right now in this moment.
Sandra Oh made history today when she not only became the first Asian host of the Golden Globes, but also the first Asian woman to win Golden Globes in multiple categories.
The 47-year-old star scored the gong for Best Performance By An Actress in a Television Series — Drama for her stellar performance in Killing Eve, and her win had quite the impact on other Asian women across the globe as social media has shown.
Melissa Leong, host of SBS’ The Chef’s Line, praised Sandra’s victory and highlighted the importance of greater representation on screen in not only Hollywood, but the Australian TV and film industry.
“Each win like Sandra Oh’s night at The Golden Globes is not only a win for extremely hard earned talent, but in some way, for everyone who feels seen in that public acknowledgement,” wrote the Singaporean-Chinese presenter.
“It gives me hope that Australia will one day catch up and represent us publicly in a more honest and accurate way…because we are STILL so far from being there yet.”
As host of the Golden Globes, Sandra had the opportunity to pay tribute to films such as Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman that have changed Hollywood’s landscape this year.
She also acknowledged her greater involvement in the awards show playing a part in making change.
“I said yes to the fear of being on this stage tonight because I wanted to be here to look out into this audience and witness this moment of change,” she emotionally admitted
“Next year could be different … but right now, this moment is real. Trust me, it is real.”
Congrats Sandra on a very well deserved win.
When you tell people you get to travel for work, people usually ask “How do I get that job?” To which I usually answer… “You’ll have to fight me for it!” For as long as I have thought about what I want to do for work when I grew up, I have wanted travel to be a part of that. Recently, Luxury Escapes sent me to Slovenia to write a story for Delicious Magazine and, spoiler alert, it was bloody amazing. You’ll be able to read about it in an upcoming issue in 2019 but for now, I spoke to Richelle Hunt on ABC Radio Melbourne about my trip - good notes for my upcoming deadline!
It is an excellent place to road trip, but if you want a more curated tour of this incredible country, click here to find out how you can skip the queue for Hiša Franko (and get an inside look at this magical place from the experts who know everyone on the ground).
Click below to listen.
Many of us have taken a moment to absorb some meaning and sentiment from the tragic loss of Sisto Malaspina, co-owner of Melbourne icon Pellegrini’s. Almost every visitor to, or resident of this city has a story, a memory of Sisto’s hospitality, warmth and generosity. If nothing else, this is the stuff that connects us and makes the industry of hospitality so crucial, especially in times of uncertainty, fear and doubt.
You of watermelon granitas and spaghetti bolognese and big smiles, thank you for living the benchmark of what true hospitality is about.
Joe Jones and I headed into the ABC Radio Melbourne studios today to talk about what Sisto’s passing has meant for the hospitality community and for the city in general…and how should all be a little more like Sisto.
Click below to listen to the podcast.
I had a SUPER FUN chat to The Cool Career, a website dedicated to helping girls leaving school to find the tools, guidance and inspiration to reach for the stars… I certainly wish something like this existed when I was leaving high school! I talk about how I got to where I am now, my mistakes and lessons learnt…and advice I’d give 15 old me, if I had the chance. Enjoy!
Let’s cut to the chase. I want to be Melissa Leong.
Never before on The Cool Career have we met a woman with THIS MUCH ADVICE. Her tips, her must have resource list, and contact list is simply put… mandatory reading. When it comes to food in Australia, there isn’t much Melissa hasn’t put her finishing touch on. A freelance food + travel writer, food media consultant, radio broadcaster, television presenter, MC and cookbook editor, this first generation Singaporean Australian isn’t afraid to consume anything at least once. Love her!
Her insatiable career is drizzled with ferociousness, and served piping hot with so many lessons for all you budding presenters and media personalities. In this #careerstory we take you back to the very beginning, but also give you a glimpse of the big things to come, because there is no way that Melissa Leong is going to slow down.
Scroll down to get the entire scoop.
Please meet Melissa Leong…
Melissa, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview. Can you take us to the start of your journey?
I grew up in the suburbs of southern Sydney in a place that’s come to be known as The Shire. Being one of only two Chinese families who went to my primary school, it wasn’t what you would call the most diverse of peer groups, but being different from the start was galvanising for me. I took pride in everything I could do that others couldn’t, and learnt to celebrate what made me, me.
From being on track to be a concert pianist, to ballet, athletics and academics, I enjoyed playing with the over achieving Asian stereotype, and I found through owning it, people come to accept who you are and even celebrate that. That hasn’t changed in my world of work – I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but the strength in self believe and making it work that I cultivated as a kid has served me well in what my career has become.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to High School at The Inaburra School, a media specialist school in the southern suburbs of Sydney. It’s a Baptist private school, so it was pretty heavy on the religious front, but what I loved was that it was small enough for teachers and students to really come to understand each other and we were given a fair degree of independence to explore our interests and skills. I held a regional school music scholarship for part of the time I was there and was always involved in the orchestra and other musical groups, which was a great way of being involved. We also had a feeder program into a show that was on SBS, so a lot of us ended up learning to present, edit, film and direct early on…which, now as part of my job involves being a television presenter, has come full circle in a way!
I love that from an early age you realised just how important it is to own yourself and your differences. So, let’s chat high school. Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
The short answer is ‘not really’. I had a hopeless careers councillor who believed that you had to choose a job from a careers book and was thoroughly confused when presented with me, because I could have gone in a number of directions. I never wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer specifically, and I was on track to attend the Conservatorium of Music as a concert pianist if I wanted to, but in the end, I developed an injury in my shoulder that made that decision pretty clear.
I chose to go to Sydney University and study Economics because I figured it would be an open enough degree to let me explore my options and figure out where to from there. I ended up graduating with a double degree in Economics and Social Sciences, which turned out to be a good general undergraduate degree because I was able to chart my course through language, politics, economics, anthropology and sociology… all very valuable skills for the business of ‘adulting’.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
My first placement was with Cleo Magazine. I loved fashion and still do…a lot! Interning is equal parts what you make of it, and who is responsible for you. If you’re lucky, and you show some initiative, people will trust you with getting involved in things that are interesting and engaging, and it was a good first look at magazine journalism in the lifestyle space.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I have an undergraduate double degree from Sydney University in Economics and Social Sciences, with a focus in HR, Political Economy and Asian Studies. I started out as a straight B. Ec. Which I felt was too dry and directional, but augmenting my degree allowed me to study what I was probably more interested in, which is cultural, language and human studies. Why we do what we do, and did what we did and how that influences the world around us, to me, is far more interesting and philosophical…maybe less direct in terms of career prospects, but I found it enriching and that it informs a lot of how I navigate the world now. If nothing else, university is an excellent place to learn to think independently and not be afraid of that.
Couldn’t agree more. so what about present day? Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
That’s a long winded path! I actually ended up with more work as a professional make up artist when I graduated because I was working for Clinique and MAC at the time and friends who had finished film degrees needed help making work. I fell into that world for a few years which was fun and creative, but ultimately not intellectually stimulating enough for me.
I ended up working for a media buying tech company and spent a lot of time travelling to Asia for work, which really grew my sense of independence and lust for solo travel. Ultimately I ended up in advertising, working for companies like Singleton Ogilvy Interactive and The Works, producing and copywriting for brands like Coca Cola, Nokia and LG which is where food comes into it. This was the dawn of social media and we were all compelled to get involved…I chose food as a subject to engage in digital communities with, and through learning to communicate efficiently, I became a writer.
I started freelancing for magazines as a critic and did that in tandem for a few years before I finally quite and went full time freelance. I ended up turning those food contacts into a restaurant and food industry PR consultancy which lasted a about 5 years before I realised I missed writing. I moved to rural Tasmania for a break, which was about the time I was approached to co-write a book, and the whole thing snowballed back into journalism and food writing and now, television. My journey has been very non-strategic and highly based on intuition and gut-feel, but it’s an exercise in saying yes to opportunities that truly excite you, to always learn from those around you and to bite off more than you can chew.
You will wither swallow it eventually, or spit it out and move on!
How did you get into the job that you are in now?
I have worked for myself for the last decade. As a freelancer, I write for publications like Delicious Magazine, The Guardian and News.com.au, as a consultant I’ve worked with brands like Adriano Zumbo and Gelato Messina, in publishing, I’ve co-written, ghost written, sub edited or edited about 5 cookbooks and have just finished filming season 2 of The Chefs’ Line for SBS. Freelancing means hard work and working constantly – its not for lazy people or procrastinators. You are responsible for yourself, sometimes a handful of employees, paying your own super, and nobody pays you when you’re sick. It’s a commitment but if you are an independent thinker and you love something enough, you can make it work.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
Freelance is hard in general! You are the one networking for jobs, putting yourself out there and paying the bills. But if you love bringing your own world to life and driving your own machine then it can be really lucrative and satisfying, too.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
There is no typical day! I could be on a shoot for a cooking show, doing interviews with press, interviewing subjects for stories, on set for 16 hours shooting a television show, travelling somewhere new in the world to write about it… I get bored with repetition, so it’s perfect for me. I’m about to head to Slovenia for a travel story next week… that’s not a bad job assignment to have!
Slovenia, so jealous, that’s amazing Melissa. Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
The thing about becoming a grown up is that you learn not to have heroes. Heroes are not people, but an ideal constructed in a moment of time. The person you look to as a hero, is still a human who makes mistakes as well as moments of greatness, so ultimately placing that kind of pressure on someone isn’t fair, or real. Inspiration can come from anywhere, but for me, I am inspired by the idea of creative and financial freedom, of doing something well and feeling satisfied by that. My parents worked extremely hard and migrated from Singapore to Australia to give my brother and I the best shot at the best life possible, and that’s always in the back of my mind… take opportunities that are given to you with grace and do them justice.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Work hard and be a nice person. You never know if that assistant on a job will become your next boss, or if you will become theirs. It’s a very simple premise but will always serve you well. Media and the food industry are hard places and when everyone wants your job, it can get deeply competitive. Be prepared to be told no, be prepared to feel lonely, but try to always surround yourself with people of all industries, and friends who will always cheer for your success and be there for you when the chips are down. Everyone needs to find their tribe.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: All my friends’ restaurants, for what they’re doing!
Hungry for more?
The lovely crew at Body + Soul had me in to chat about what it’s like when food is work and work is life… spoiler alert: it’s all about balance (something I don’t always get right!). Read the interview below, and listen to my chat with legend radio woman Maz Compton and Dr Andrew Rochford! I promise there will be snacks!
Fact one: The average healthy female will consume a minimum of 730,000 calories a year.
Fact two: The average person will also spend a staggering 32,098 hours eating in their lifetime.
Two facts that hold two very large numbers; but what happens when you factor in a job that pays you to eat?
Firstly, it’s pretty much certain that you’d have to multiply those numbers by 10, but it’s also guaranteed those numbers on the scales would look a little frightening.
Living the life of a food writer sounds like the ultimate dream job, but when it comes to attempting to stay healthy, it’s definitely no easy feat. Just ask the ultimate foodie Melissa Leong, who had to learn the hard way.
“I started in my late 20s and I thought my metabolism was fine – I can eat everything, I can do all the things,” the TV presenter on SBS Australia’s The Chef’s Line tells co-hosts Dr Andrew Rochford and Maz Compton in the latest episode of podcast Healthy-ish: Why does our social life revolve around food?
“I would have these massive eating sessions with my chef friends where we’d go out for a whole day and eat all of the things, and it never occurred to me once that all of my friends are dudes who are six-foot-something or 150 kilos – I would just match them to the toe.”
It wasn’t until Melissa was in her early thirties did she realise her amazing job was taking a toll on her health.
“My metabolism wasn’t the same as what it was and I didn’t look the same anymore, and that was a really sobering thing to realise,” the foodie recalls.
So how in the world does she stay healthy when her life revolves around indulging in food all day long?
Between running to and fro around the globe as a freelance food and travel writer, media consultant, radio broadcaster, TV presenter and cookbook editor, Melissa somehow makes sure she fits in a Pilates session whenever she has the time.
And when it comes to her diet, it’s all about planning, balance, and listening to her body.
“If I’m eating out professionally, if I’m going out to restaurants all day, then the days that I’m not it’s really simple things.”
While she admits she loves pasta, cake and bread (girlfriend, we hear you), she understands it “doesn’t agree” with her body so she tries to minimises complex carbs when she can, and instead focuses on lots of protein and veg.
“It’s about cooking for yourself because you know what you’re putting into your food, and I know what works for me.”
But the foodie doesn’t praise home-cooked food only for its healthiness; yes, she’s tasted almost every dish to grace this planet and dined at the finest restaurants around the world, but it’s the soul and heart of her mother’s homemade meals that trump every dish she’s ever critiqued.
“My mum’s Hainanese chicken and rice is a cracker of a dish, but it’s nostalgic, and I would definitely eat this as my last meal for sure.”
Want to hear more about what life’s like living as a food and travel writer? Find out in episode 37 of our podcast Healthy-ish. Listen above, at Apple iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
From my family to yours, as featured in delicious. Magazine’s annual Entertaining Issue.
Pascale Gomes-McNabb is the creative force behind some of Australia’s most stylish restaurants, but how does this architect design the ultimate long lunch? A few heavy-hitting culinary cohorts don’t hurt. Food and travel writer Melissa Leong happens to be one of them and she saved us a seat at the party.
The average Australian diner may not know Melbourne-based architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb by name, but they’ve certainly heard of the restaurants she’s had a hand in bringing to life. In designing high-profile establishments such as the original Cutler & Co. and Cumulus Inc. in Melbourne, Sydney’s Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Cirrus and Monopole, and SA’s Penfolds Magill Estate Restaurant (to name but a few), she’s had a hand in the way Australians dine at the top end of town.
We’re gathered at Pascale’s latest masterpiece – the North Melbourne terrace she calls home – to break in her new digs (not that these guys need much of an excuse to pop a bottle of Champagne). It’s full of her signature dark metals, contrasting textural finishes and pops of colour by way of bowerbird curios.
The guests include chef Matt McConnell of Bar Lourinhã; his wife and business partner, Jo Gamvros; close friend Linda Jones of Alimentari; Felix Allsop of cocktail bar The Everleigh; his mate Joe Jones from cocktail bar Romeo Lane and restaurant The Mayfair… and yours truly.
Matt’s eclectic Latin-spiked cuisine displays an ease and generosity of flavour, with an uncomplicated style that belies the extensive experience he’s picked up from his travels and years spent overseas. “Fun is kind of crucial,” he adds.
Cocktails are mixed by former chef Joe Jones, who has built his drinks career on elegantly simple beverages with classic roots and minimal fuss.
There’s a sign at Bar Lourinhã that reads ‘Good Times’, and those are certainly had every time these friends get together.
“We don’t do minimalism here,” says Jo. “Our collective style is loud, unapologetically bold and colourful.” Pascale favours striking jewellery such as her evil bunny ring by Emma Abrahams from Heart of Bone, while metallic threads and big prints are offset by the odd neutral for balance. Jewel-toned flowers against a dark backdrop add drama to the table.
It’s all about easy, shareable, seasonal food that’s big on flavour, colour and texture. Vibrant bottarga shaved over potato, a summer-worthy skirt steak bathed in mojo verde, and subtle seafood offset by smoky chilli and rich slivers of lardo.
From Marvin Gaye and Grace Jones’ My Jamaican Guy to Michael Jackson’s Beat It and satanic pop rock by Ghost, with a little Nancy Sinatra thrown in for good measure, the tunes are as eclectic as the group’s style.
“Always start and end with bubbles!” yells Linda.
Punchbowl cocktails scream party fun and are a great way to make cocktails an easy affair when entertaining.
A twist on everyone’s favourite, the Negroni, is also perfect, even outside aperitivo hour.
BY DELICIOUS. TEAM
For as long as I’ve read the paper, I’ve loved reading My Day On A Plate in Sunday Life. Such fascinating insight into what people eat and do…well, I’m pretty thrilled to have had my very own day on a plate published, a dream come true! These things are hard to write for me, what I eat varies wildly from day to day, so I wrote it based on the day I was asked to write it. Read more below.
After hosting a dinner event with Peter Gilmore at Sydney's Quay last night, I wake up realising I probably won't be eating anything [nearly as] fancy today.
10.30am Craving noodles for breakfast, I head to Chinatown for a bowl of khao dtom sen: chewy Thai rice noodles swimming in steamy pork bone broth, topped with soft pork ribs, chilli oil, Thai basil, bean sprouts and lime. [NB: For those playing, I went to Boon Cafe]
2.30pm A protein bar on the flight to Melbourne; nobody wants a hangry Mel.
5.30pm Back in Melbourne, I have two corn thins topped with avocado, chilli, salt and lemon before heading to Pilates, where I might very well die.
7.30pm Didn't die, hooray. Taste-testing recipes to cook on breakfast TV next week. I decide on Hainanese chicken with smashed radish and cucumber salad. Two glasses of wine are obviously crucial to this "testing process".
9.30pm Current obsession: crumbles. A cup of frozen berries, topped with a crumble made from a little almond meal, butter, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg, thrown in the oven for 20 minutes. Served with a spoonful of Greek yoghurt.
Dr Joanna McMillan says:
Top marks for … Your wonderful Thai soup breakfast. This gave you vegies, carbs to fuel your day, protein to rein in your appetite. As a bonus, the fluid aids in hydration.
If you keep eating like this you'll … Fall short on the antioxidants, other beneficial chemicals and fibre types we get from plant foods. You also failed to meet the daily recommendation of two serves of fruit and five of vegies, and had no wholegrains or legumes to boost fibre.
Why don't you try … Getting some leafy greens into your everyday diet. Pick up an apple or other fruit in the airport lounge while travelling and include beans, chickpeas or lentils a few times a week – they work beautifully in a salad or soup.
Catch Melissa on The Chefs' Line at 6pm weeknights on SBS. Episodes are also available via SBS On Demand.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale September 23.
IN THE production office for The Chefs' Line, there's a display known as the 'wall of love'.
The feel-good cooking show pits home cooks against professional chefs and their staff in a friendly competition themed around a different cuisine each week. There's no cash prize, unlike most of the other reality cooking shows on TV.
"We have a wall of love in the production office where we display the messages home cooks have sent us," judge and co-host Melissa Leong tells The Guide.
"They send us cards, flowers, emails. It makes every single member of the crew so happy people have such a good experience being on the show.
"The competition structure itself is extremely low stakes, It's just a format people understand and it allows us to be able to showcase people's multi-generational recipes. It's a show that celebrates food, cultural diversity and love in equal doses."
Leong, a Melbourne-based food writer and journalist, hosts the series, now in its second season, with chefs Dan Hong and Mark Olive.
Knowledgeable, glamorous and respected in the industry, she seems made for TV. But Leong says she never considered a role on the small screen until she was asked to audition for The Chefs' Line.
"People had suggested I look into it over the years, but to be honest I never really sought out television,' she says.
"Paul Franklin, the CEO of Eureka Productions (and the key creative architect behind MasterChef), pitched me the idea and asked me to sit in on this chemistry test. I walked into this green room there was Poh (Ling Yeow) and Adam Liaw and Maeve O'Meara. I just laughed and thought 'I'll never get this'. I joked about drinking gravy and all sorts of things and apparently that's what they were after."
Falling into food writing "accidentally" after working in advertising, Leong is a voice bridging the old and the new. While she champions the 'old school' values of fine dining, she also embraces social media and inspires home cooks on her website fooderati.com.au.
"My parents come from Singapore, so that was my initial qualification for knowing anything about food. That's just the way you're brought up - you learn how to eat and shop," she says.
"Then when I started working as a freelance journalist and food writer, it really consolidated a lot of who I was. I've always felt easy talking about food so to be able to communicate about food in that capacity has been the greatest joy of the last decade of my life."
Next week, The Chefs' Line will showcase Mexican food, a cuisine which continues to gain popularity in Australia.
"Mexican week goes into an all-out colourful fiesta. There's singing and taunting and lots of yelling in Spanish," she says.
"For the longest time what the general Australian public thought of as Mexican was Tex Mex, but now we're understanding the regionality of Mexican food a lot better. It suits the Australian climate so well ."
The Chefs' Line airs weekdays at 6pm on SBS-TV.
I had the great pleasure of hosting a very special dinner at Quay, where some very lucky American Express Platinum Card holders were among the first diners in Australia to experience chef Peter Gilmore’s brand new menu, in the very handsome new Quay restaurant. It was a fantastic night, interviewing Peter and lifting the lid on the creative process of transition and evolution for Quay, and Peter personally.
Few other industries possess as many awards and top lists as hospitality. That piece of paper taped to the kitchen wall printed with the faces of food media grows ever long with the augmentation of the digital age, and with it comes a confusing number of titles to compete for.
It’s not just Best Restaurant anymore. Awards have been broken down by category so far that it feels as though any day we’ll be awarding Best Restaurant Dishy (we all know they’re the real kitchen heroes anyway).
Add to that the fact that every outlet in this ever-changing landscape has their own set of gongs to bang, it begs the question; in an era where awards are handed out just for turning up (and by everyone), do they mean anything anymore?
When it comes to the direct impact an award can have on a business, the extra bump can be crucial when you’re a newborn. “When we started out nearly 10 years ago, awards had a huge impact for us,” says Vicki Wild of Sydney fine dining gem Sepia (whose awards are too numerous to list). “We didn’t have the budget for PR and it really gave the business the attention that it needed.”
And what about these days as an established business? “Awards and lists are fun when you’re on them, and not when you’re not,” says Wild. “I’d be lying if I were to say we didn’t appreciate them, but Martin (Benn, executive chef and co-owner) isn’t a high-fiver. We’re much happier when we do our own thing. I don’t feel the need to do certain things differently just to be considered.”
For industry veteran Maurice Terzini, it’s a matter of reassurance. “After all these years, the main awards (Fairfax’s Good Food Guide and Gourmet Traveller, for example), give me a sense of confirmation that I have consistency [in my business] and for my customers, the same. It’s a reinforcement of our standards, and of course, it’s great for staff morale.”
On the other side of the country, Joel Valvasori, chef/owner of Perth pasta palace Lulu La Delizia says it also reminds customers who may be distracted by new openings and other factors, that they’re still here (and awesome). “I’ve never seen the impact as much as I’ve seen it here to be honest. Maybe it’s because we are a small restaurant, but every handful of people per service [who come because of the media coverage from an award] adds up at the end of the week.”
Those ‘main’ awards Terzini refers to have plenty of company these days. So does this dilute the potency or value of being ‘in’? “Both internationally and domestically, there are so many awards,” says Wild. “A non-industry friend said to me, ‘God, your industry is SO scrutinised’. And the fact is we’re all doing something different, so sometimes it’s odd to compare apples with oranges. I think the industry and the public will ultimately get sick of it. For the moment, these things may get a run for a little while longer, but I don’t think they have legs for the future.”
In terms of PR, does a business need it to get a leg up on the awards front? While it’s widely accepted that certain international awards require a fair degree of lobbying from the right PR to even get on the playing field (a conscious choice Sepia chose not to undertake), is it any different at home?
Monica Brown, arguably one of the most powerful PR fixers in the world says ‘yes and no’. Brown has a roster that has included Heston Blumenthal and many of the top 20 in the World’s 50 Best.
“It’s our job to bring restaurants and chefs to the media’s attention, but it’s still their job to decide for themselves if they’re worthy; we have no control over that,” she says. “But if you’re engaging PR to get you on a list or an award, that’s a sure path to madness. You may get your 15 minutes of fame, but it lends you no gravitas for long-term business viability.”
Terzini believes striving for awards has for some, distracted them from the soul of hospitality. “I’m a big believer in hitting your financial goals, but I think we don’t talk enough about the social role that restaurants play, and that’s being forgotten,” he says.
“People live their lives around the restaurant table. Celebrations, fights, business deals, entertaining; the role that restaurants play socially has been overshadowed by a focus on awards. Sometimes I feel awards will drive the industry to just a competitive place rather than what it is supposed to be, which is to provide a place to live life.”
Wild agrees. “Who doesn’t love an award?!” she laughs, “but that’s not why we do what we do.”
This article originally appeared in Hospitality’s August issue. Subscribe here.
I had the great pleasure of chatting to the delightful Jane De Graaf, 9 Honey's food editor, to talk about simple recipes you can keep on hand for mid week meals. We also talk about Jennifer Lawrence's drunk alter ego Gayle, and dish on The Chefs' Line behind the scenes.
The food writer and TV host's one pantry trick that will smash it out of the park tonight.
When you see the glamorous Instagram pictures of food writer and TV presenter Melissa Leong (aka Fooderati), you’d be forgiven for thinking that her days are spent eating solely at high end restaurants and languishing in plush hotel rooms. But don’t be fooled, the host of SBS’s The Chef’s Line has a deeply rooted love of home cooking.
Check out the ‘What the F is for Dinner’ podcast with Jane de Graaff and Melissa Leong sorting your ultimate pantry dinner tonight…
One of her greatest joys is celebrating and championing home cooks and the extraordinary dishes they can create, from humble cheese toasties to extravagant multi course spreads.
So, it was a true eye-opener to sit down with her recently in the dimly lit surrounds of Melbourne’s The Mayfair to talk about how to make the best dinner of your life out of just pantry staples, and why it’s so important to have a huge array of condiments on hand to pep-up any meal. It’s basically a free-pass to create a kick-ass meal any time without thinking too hard about it.
“[We all] do the fridge and pantry dance, right? Where you stand with the fridge door open, look at everything. Then you close it, walk away and look in the pantry. Then go back to the fridge and wonder if anything new has magically appeared in there,” she laughs.
Food writer and TV host, Melissa Leong - aka Fooderati
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It’s a relief to know that someone who has restaurants in the family and spends her time interviewing Australia’s best chefs still faces the same dilemma we all do come dinner time.
Take a listen to the podcast to hear Melissa’s pantry trick for overcoming the last-minute dinner question, and I can guarantee that it’s a brilliant one that you will simply lap up tonight.
“Some of the best cooks in my life are home cooks, and as much as we love going out to restaurants and eating really delicious, fancy, professional food, heart and soul you’ll always come back to eating the stuff of your dreams and the stuff of nostalgia and your childhood.”
It’s why top end chefs spend a lifetime trying to recreate their grandmother’s best cakes and dinnertime staples. Because we all want that food that was made with so much love.
“Practical home cooking needs to rely on things that you can just have on hand all the time,” says Melissa. “So that when you do stand in front of the cupboard or fridge and go ‘what the f is for dinner’, you can pull together a really amazing meal based on pantry staples that can survive a nuclear holocaust.”
Her ultimate trick is a twist on XO sauce… but I’ll let Melissa explain why in the podcast. Because no one can sell it better than the woman herself, and you’ll be ready to ditch the chicken salt and swap it for this little trick in no time.
“I’m all for hacks that add lots of flavour with very little effort” – and that sounds like our kind of cooking. Especially when it comes to Melissa’s easy Chinese hot pot.
And that’s dinner, done, easy.
Note:You can catch Melissa hosting and judging SBS’s The Chef’s Line, championing home cooks and encouraging us all to have a crack in the kitchen.
You can also find our 9Honey Kitchen easy vegetable hot pot recipe here for another easy take on dinner
We catch up with effervescent food writer, and SBS broadcast personality, Melissa Leong to get her take on Women in the Foodservice industry in the lead up to her appearance at Fine Food Australia's Women in Foodservice charity event.
We might be biased when it comes to our own, but the we've been sharpening our knives in readiness for season 2 of The Chefs' Line. Let's celebrate Australia’s diverse food culture by battling it out over hot stoves and racing clocks as well as bringing together cooks and chefs from around the country to showcase their love of food.
It's going to be the ultimate food fight as home cooks will try and out cook an entire chefs’ line (did we hear you say what is a chefs' line, anyway? Find out right here) in the hopes that their passion will prevail over profession.
Each night home cooks try to cook their way up the ranks, one chef at a time, so you can expect serious skills, fabulous flavour combos, cuisine classics and some genius cooking tips along the way.
Each week, The Chefs’ Line will celebrate a different cuisine, a new chefs’ line will represent their restaurant and go up against four new home cooks. And where would a cooking competition be without its judges? Well, you're in luck with this glorious panel of food experts - Dan Hong, Mark Olive and Melissa Leong, meet the team right here!
Did someone say, kitchen sink battle? We sure did!
I had a blast hanging out with Justine Schofield, cooking up a few of my favourite simple recipes for season 8 of her show Everyday Gourmet on Channel 10. Check out my easy peasy and SUPER DELICIOUS tom yum sausage rolls as seen on the show this week, and if you want to give it a go CLICK HERE!
Hospitality Magazine asked me to write a piece on the side of the Australian hospitality industry less seen by the public.
Drug and alcohol abuse, bullying and bad behaviour, unpaid debt...it's something everyone in hospitality has had a brush with in some context...including myself.
Thank you to those brave interview subjects willing to go on the record with their impressions, take a read in the March 2018 issue of the magazine...also posted below.