In The News

Ever Done A DNA Ancestry Test?

As an ambassador for A Taste of Harmony 2019, I was asked if I wanted to fill out an ancestry DNA test to find out a little more about where I come from. I wrote about what I discovered for their website, but I thought I’d share with you a little bit about me here. The basic process for a test, no matter which service you use, is:

  1. Order your test online. There are great services like 23 & Me or Ancestry which make it super easy. It’s around $100usd.

  2. You will receive a parcel in the mail. Open it, follow the instructions carefully, but essentially, the first thing in the morning before you brush (gross!), spit into the tube supplied, seal the bio hazard bag, and send the parcel back according to instructions.

  3. A few weeks later, you’ll receive your results, some of which, you can feed through other website data engines, to help you find out things like medical predispositions to illnesses and intolerances, etc.

  4. That’s it!

So here’s my story.

Melissa Leong, 3 years old, Singapore.

Melissa Leong, 3 years old, Singapore.

I was always curious about my cultural heritage beyond what I knew about my family being from Singapore, with Chinese ancestry. Growing up in a predominantly white Australian community, with a few Greek and Italian families, I was always fascinated about how far and wide they knew their family tree. It’s not really an Asian thing, to pass down detailed information about family, at least not in mine. As a migrant family to Australia, my parents were more focused on giving us a future, instead of reflecting on the past. 

I grew up learning a lot about my culture though, through food. It’s the way with most Asian kids, and you aren’t necessarily taught, you learn by exposure and by doing. I was always included in the kitchen when my mum or grandmother was cooking, from leaning to pound chillies with a heavy stone mortar and pestle for sambal, or mixing the mince for wontons, different foods carry different symbolism and importance for different occasions. My mother is a fantastic cook and through her, I have a collection of recipes I make over and over again. They’re the ones I reach for in times of needing comfort or to feel more connected with who I am. I love making Hainanese chicken rice, Nyonya chicken curry, beef rendang and steamed oysters with ginger, spring onions and soy… not bad heirloom recipes to own!

All I really knew about my cultural identity prior to taking the DNA test, is that my grandparents on both sides were originally from China, removed by about a generation or two on each side. My mother, from Fujian Province, mixed with Peranakan Chinese and my father, from Canton, China. My facial features, however, suggested that there may be more to the story than just Chinese heritage, and I always suspected that because of my Singaporean roots, and its history as a place in the with such a multicultural trade significance, that I might also have Dutch or Portuguese ancestry thrown into the mix.

Imagine my surprise to find out that I’m 92% ethnically Chinese, with the remaining 7ish% broader East Asian (this has now come back saying that I have ancestry from The Phillipines and Guam)…and about 1% Native American. I never could have predicted that last part! It’s a fascinating piece of information about my history that I could have never predicted and I would love to explore where, how and when this part of my history played a part in my family. 

 If I had to bring a dish to A Taste of Harmony event, it would probably be wontons. They’re such a crowd pleaser and I love that Australians have taken to dumplings with the kind of obsessive quality any Asian can respect. We are, after all as Australians, a part of South East Asia – something I think our politicians and leaders tend to forget. I think by embracing who we are as a rich multicultural mix of cultures, we are better placed to create a safe, dynamic and peaceful place to live. Diversity to me, means inclusion for all, and an opportunity to learn from and grow with each other. 

 

Delicious Magazine: Why You Should Visit Slovenia

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!

Delicious Magazine Australia, March 2019 Issue

Delicious Magazine Australia, March 2019 Issue

Thank you to Luxury Escapes for sending us, true masters of an all killer, no filler tour. If you would like to tread the exact same trip, with the best in the biz, find out more here.

Facing The Food Industry's Hypocrisy: Duncan Welgemoed Speaks


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.

Celebrating The Lunar New Year With The Star

Published: The Star Magazine February 2019

Published: The Star Magazine February 2019

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.

Dami Im The Star Interview Lunar New Year

Melissa Leong Joins ABC Radio Melbourne Afternoons as a Regular Guest

Afternoons with Richelle Hunt Wednesday 23 January, 2019

Afternoons with Richelle Hunt Wednesday 23 January, 2019

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.

TV host says Sandra Oh’s Golden Globes victory gives her hope for greater representation in Aussie media

Published on Draw Your Box, January 7, 2019

Published on Draw Your Box, January 7, 2019

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.

Click here to read the article in full.

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.

Melbourne Farewells A Hospitality Legend

Image: ABC News

Image: ABC News

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.

November 12, 2018

November 12, 2018


The Cool Career

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!

The Cool Career ABOUT

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?

Hungry for more? 

Visit Melissa by her website HERE and via her awesome instagram HERE.

Body + Soul: Healthy-ish Podcast

Published: November 9, 2018 Body + Soul

Published: November 9, 2018 Body + Soul

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.

How To Entertain Like A Restaurant Architect

Published November 2017

Published November 2017

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.

Style

“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.

Menu

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.

RECIPES

Corn crisps, steak tartare and smoked herring roe

BY DELICIOUS. TEAM

RECIPES

Scallop, lardo and smoky chilli

BY DELICIOUS. TEAM

RECIPES

Whiting crudo with radish

BY DELICIOUS. TEAM

RECIPES

Seared skirt steak, mojo verde and shaved horseradish

BY DELICIOUS. TEAM

RECIPES

Stracciatella, pickled carrot and fennel

BY DELICIOUS. TEAM

RECIPES

Potato 'salad', vinegar, bottarga

BY DELICIOUS. TEAM
RECIPES

Orange caramel molotovs

BY DELICIOUS. TEAM

Playlist

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.

Drinks

“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.

RECIPES

Beehive punch

BY DELICIOUS. TEAM

A twist on everyone’s favourite, the Negroni, is also perfect, even outside aperitivo hour.

RECIPES

Tequila negroni

BY DELICIOUS. TEAM

Sunday Life: My Day On A Plate

Published Sunday Life, Sydney Morning Herald, September 23, 2018

Published Sunday Life, Sydney Morning Herald, September 23, 2018

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.

8.30am

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.

Fooderati on 9 Honey

Nine Honey 9Kitchen What The F*ck's For Dinner

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. 

Melissa joined me for our delicious 9Honey Kitchen fifteen minute food podcast What the F is for Dinner’- and it’s certainly a topic that is close to her heart.

 “[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

 

The Chefs' Line Season 2 is COMING!

Melissa Leong Fooderati The Chefs' Line Season 2

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 HongMark Olive and Melissa Leongmeet the team right here!

Did someone say, kitchen sink battle? We sure did!

Some Like It Hot

"Hello Melissa? I'd like to challenge you to a ramen eating contest." Umm....HELL YES! A few weeks ago, Andy Trieu, host of SBS Pop Asia called and asked me if eating contests were my thing. Personally, I'm often fascinated by the culture of why we love to watch people put themselves through that kind of duress (more on this by me here), so I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and for the sake of journalistic research (also, ramen), and say YES! 

The results, you can see for yourself. Suffice to say that eating a tonne of chilli comes with a tonne of consequences, so please follow my example at your own risk! 

What Is Australian Food? On SBS Food

In an age where famous chefs occupy household conversation as much as sporting heroes, does that mean we’re any more confident to answer this decades-old question?

If I were to ask you ‘what is Australian cuisine’, what would you say? Meat pies? Sausage rolls? Fish and chips? ...Each suggestion ending in a question mark as if to further highlight doubt (the upwards inflection is still Aussie, so there’s always that). Surely we’re past that, right? 

Having been sent packing by publisher Blackwell & Ruth to co-edit and produce The Great Australian Cookbook, we set about charting a course around the country, asking great producers, chefs and cooks “What do you cook for those you love?” The experience gifted a rather beautiful snapshot of where the heart (and stomach) of the nation currently lives.

Like the Old-World cultures of the globe who have had hundreds and thousands of years to cultivate a distinct cuisine profile, so to have our Indigenous people. But in the context of ‘settled Australia’, we have no such fairy bread fortune. Instead, the waves of immigration that have shaped our country since white settlement and their subsequent interaction have offered us something entirely different.

The cookbook runs the gamut from very English sponge with strawberries and cream by Margaret Fulton to beef rendang and char kway teow by one of our greatest early south-east Asian influences, Cheong Liew, and a quick flip through the rest reveals Italian grilled sardines, bush tomato damper, coq au vin, a legit Darwinese laksa and one helluva pineapple fish curry. This is a snapshot of the soul food of our nation. What makes us happy and what we’re happy to share with our loved ones.

With that in mind, it’s clear that the contribution each person has brought from somewhere else has coloured, and more importantly flavoured our culinary palate. And whether we hail from here or elsewhere, those influences have continued to flow through our most influential chefs and cooks.

Christine ‘The Spice Queen’ Manfield notes travel to be one of her greatest passions and creative influences. “We have a fascination with what is not normal from how we’re brought up. I have always loved exploring other options that are perceived as foreign or different from what I knew before”, she says. “It’s about falling in love with flavours and discovering food in the context of culture.”

Closer to home, Neil Perry offers the slightly more approachable notion of discovering the nuances of our cultural cuisine in our own backyard. “I don’t think you necessarily need to travel the world. You get a great sense and feeling for authenticity and ethnicity right here in Australia and for that, along with our produce we’re lucky. I think Australians embrace food from other cultures well, so there’s a reasonable preservation of true flavours and textures. You might miss some of the nuances when you lose the context of food in its original place, but in general, we have a great array of the world’s food right here,” he says.

“I’ve always said that I think Australian food is defined by the many ethnic communities that have migrated to Australia and the way we have as a collective, embraced their cooking techniques, ingredients and style”, Merivale executive chef Dan Hong adds.

But what about the ‘F’ word? The one that makes anyone who worked in food in the 90’s cringe, the ugly baby of ill-considered cultural appropriation: fusion.

“I don’t think fusion needs to be a dirty word,” says Icebergs executive chef Monty Koludrovic. “We do Italian here, but we like to say, ‘we cook food that Nonna would recognise, but never cook herself. For instance, we use Japanese sashimi techniques and philosophy in the way we approach our crudo menu, and we enjoy the freedom of using both Italian and non-Italian techniques and flavours without having to put a moniker of confinement on it,” he says.

“We’re Italian hearted, because the greatest Italian cooks have always cooked with the philosophy of relying on what’s around them. Rather than trying to emulate the food cooked exactly somewhere else, we use what we have that’s great and that makes it exciting.”

And that includes native ingredients, which until the past decade or so, were not often included on menus. “I think it’s really exciting to see Indigenous ingredients being integrated into menus in restaurants,” says Hong. “I think we’re just starting to understand their qualities as legitimate ingredients and what they’re capable of.”

“The notion of blending Australian Italian with that very Indigenous sense of place and home is getting me fired up,” says Koludrovic after an inspiring visit with the Museum of South Australia’s head of Anthropology, John Carty. “It ties in with a conscious approach to food and sustainability, and if we want to have that conversation, that will mean things like using kangaroo in Bolognese.” So does that mean we’ll be seeing our first Indigenous meets Italian restaurant anytime soon? “No”, laughs Koludrovic,”…but as hard as that idea is for people to realise, it is the future.”

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @fooderati, Facebook fooderati Instagram@fooderati 

Feeling nostalgic? We want you! For the month of November, SBS Food are asking food lovers far and wide to get creative by putting a multicultural twist or your creative spin on an Australian classic... Welcome to #BringBackTheClassics - enter now!

 

#BringBackTheClassics with SBS Food!

Musk sticks, milkshakes, burgers with beetroot and Icy Poles, what it is about milkbars that will always have a place in our hearts? Read on for my very first feature story for SBS Food! 

By Melissa Leong

Before the days of branded strip malls and hyper accessible fast food, were simpler times. Times when we didn’t think about quitting sugar and where anything (well, almost anything) could come battered and fried.

Whether your childhood roots lie in the city, the country or possibly more crucially in the neighbourhood suburbs of this wide brown land, a trip to the milkbar with your friends has long been a beloved rite of passage when it comes to growing up in Australia.

For many of us, milkbars gave us our first taste of the concept of saving and spending, treats and indulgence. From blowing your hard earned pocket money on a bag of red frogs or musk sticks, discovering the joys of biting into a sloppy hamburger with the lot, egg yolk and beetroot juice running down your arms, or riding your bike with your mates in the searing summer heat in pursuit of an icy treat – then having to ride all the way home again - almost everyone who spent some part of their childhood growing up in Australia can recount a fond milkbar memory.

Milkbars were the cornerstones of our communities. A multi-purpose, family-friendly (and often family-run) local establishment, where people would get the down low on local gossip, meet up with friends or make new ones. It meant sweet treats for kids, a night off cooking (and a lazy indulgence) for parents, it was also the purveyor of the paper, the milk and the occasional cheeky packet of cigarettes. Over time, these establishments may have faded from memory and become superseded by economic reality, but there’s no question of their contribution in the decades when they were king. Milkbars were not only a crucial part of Australian food culture for nearly half a century, but also influenced the way many of us connected with neighbours.

The first business named a ‘milk bar’ was opened in Bangalore, India by a Brit named James Meadow Charles in 1930, but closer to home, it was Mick Adams - also known by his OG (original Greek) name of Joachim Tavlaridis - who is said to have opened Australia’s first milkbar, in Martin Place, Sydney, not too long after.

Wanting to provide an alternative style of hospitality establishment to the hard drinking Australian pub culture that continues today, he created a more family-friendly option, modeled on American-style drugstores, which served up sundaes and milkshakes and wholesome good times. In her book Milkbar Memories (Murdoch Books RRP $39.99), author Jane Lawson goes on to note that over the next 5 years, nearly 4,000 more milkbars like Mick’s were opened, mainly run by Greek families following the groundswell of European immigration, around Australia. Throughout the next decades, every neighbourhood, country town and city corner became home to the institution of the milkbar.

For the young, and those newly introduced to Australia, milkbars represented an opportunity to dip a toe in the water when it came to discovering Australian food culture at a grass roots level. Favourites might include chest freezers full of chilly treats, from Icy Poles to Golden Gaytimes and Cornettos, or frothy milkshakes in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or caramel and where the only thing green in a drink was lime flavouring.

And then there’s the Aussie milkbar burger. Not to be mistaken for an imitation of its American cousin, a proper Australian milkbar burger doesn’t come on a steamed bun, but one made of denser, more substantial stuff. You need that structural integrity after all, to hold in the hefty layers of juicy beef, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato, cheese, beetroot, bacon, egg and… if you’re feeling tropical, a pineapple ring. Regionally, there are Dagwood dogs, potato scallops, battered fish, meat pies, sausage rolls, dim sims, Chiko rolls and everywhere, everyone fought over the extra crunchy chips.

Our fondness for these foods are not, of course, was never for their nutritional value, but for their nostalgic one; an association with youth, family and a feeling of community connectedness that we yearn most for in the face of increasingly globalised, commercialised and homogenised existence. 

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @fooderati Facebook fooderati, Instagram @fooderati

Feeling nostalgic? We want you! For the month of November, SBS Food are asking food lovers far and wide to get creative by putting a multicultural twist or your creative spin on an Australian classic... Welcome to #BringBackTheClassics - enter now!

Margaret River Gourmet Escape 2017

Margaret River Gourmet Escape 2017

I am thrilled to be MCing a couple of amazing events this year at Margaret River Gourmet Escape, which has to be one of Australia's most beautiful food festival destinations. 

It's my first year headed over to WA for the festival and it's a huge honour to be hosting and interviewing culinary heroes Rick Stein and Alex Atala, as well as one of Australia's most exciting chefs Momofuku Seiobo's Paul Carmichael.

If you're looking at heading down, check out the festival program and give me a high five if you see me out and about and if you have any burning questions for any of these amazing culinary heroes, leave a comment below! 

"...Getting to know youuuuu..."

Fresh off the film set and ready to hop a plane, Melissa Leong talks about eating fearlessly, food writing as a career, and why Australia’s culinary scene could do with a dose of glamour.  Siobhan Hegarty - 16 March 2017, SBS Food. Original piece  here . 

Fresh off the film set and ready to hop a plane, Melissa Leong talks about eating fearlessly, food writing as a career, and why Australia’s culinary scene could do with a dose of glamour.

Siobhan Hegarty - 16 March 2017, SBS Food. Original piece here

A few months ago, the lovely Siobhan Hegarty from SBS Food interviewed me while waiting to jump on a plane to LA, a day after finishing up on the set of The Chef's Line. Call it fatigue, but I was brutally honest about a few things relating to the restaurant industry here in Australia and she was lovely enough to let those thoughts go to print intact. So if you want to know a bit about me...keep reading! 


Long before food bloggers were a café constant and snap-happy diners ’grammed every dish, there existed a breed of witty, well-fed writers who took our imaginations – and taste buds – on delicious journeys. These were the food writers of yesteryear: the M.F.K. Fishers and Jeffrey Steingartens of the world; the ones who paired journalistic integrity with gastronomic know-how, eating for all of us via their pithy prose.

Things have changed considerably since those arguably golden days. The democratisation of dining means that many of us, at least in the West, can eat at establishments once reserved for the rich and the restaurant critics. Not only that, we can write about our eating experiences, too: tell our pals on Facebook; make others envious on Instagram; and publish ‘musings’ on our sharply designed blog because, like, everybody needs a web presence.

Thankfully, the situation’s not thatbleak. Beneath the filters, facades and curious grammar choices lies an assembly of real-deal food writers.

One of them is Melissa Leong.

If you don’t know her name, that’s because this lady lives behind the pen. She co-writes and edits cookbooks with Aussie chefs (Dan Hong included), contributes regularly to magazines, and consults with food businesses, taking them from good to great. In a time where quality journalists are over-worked and under-paid, Melissa has created her own opportunities and a unique niche. But just because she’s a ‘slashie’ doesn’t mean she’ll do a second-rate job ­– quite the opposite. Melissa dives head first into eating, writing and travelling.

Shortly before heading on her honeymoon with newlywed husband – and Time Out’s 2017 Bartender of the Year – Joe Jones, we chatted to The Chefs’ Line judge about filming the series, freelancing in food, and eating with abandon. Here’s what she had to say:  

On The Chefs’ Line:
I had an amazing time shooting the series. It was a brand new experience for me but what I loved about it was that both the home cooks and the chefs brought so much passion for the cuisine they cooked. And that kind of enthusiasm is so infectious!

On the other judges:
I’ve known Dan for number of years, we even wrote a book together. I enjoy his tremendous work ethic and family values. He honours what he’s learnt from his mother and generations of Vietnamese heritage and applies that in a technical capacity. Dan has a lot of fun with everything, but he also has extreme determination – young chefs can learn a lot from him.

Where Mark is concerned, I have such admiration for how he operates as a human being. He’s very kind and nurturing to the people around him. To me, in an industry that’s sensationalised for having people who champion an ego-driven approach, here are two chefs who are all about working hard and making sure they lead by example.

On choosing a ‘favourite’ cuisine:
We are such a multicultural nation, and I’ve grown up with parents who love food from all parts of the world so to pick a favourite is like asking what your favourite band is. I love all of them. I love Middle Eastern, I love Mediterranean and I love Asian. To even say that is difficult because there’s so much diversity, nuance and specificity in each country.

"The casualisation of fine dining has allowed everyone to feel comfortable, but at the same time you do sacrifice a sense of occasion."

On eating out in Australia:
Fast casual is a wonderful way to eat. The casualisation of fine dining has allowed everyone to feel comfortable, but at the same time you do sacrifice a sense of occasion. I’d like to see a return to old-school values, classic service and the old-world glamour of what dining – going out – is supposed to be. I think we miss that a little bit, but it will be changed over the next little while with restaurants like Hubert opening up in Sydney and Melbourne.

"Just because you have a stomach and a laptop doesn’t make you a writer, publisher or editor.

On food writing as a career:
First and foremost, if you want to be a good writer, you need to be a good eater. You need to be fearless when it comes to eating, you can’t show predilections or bias. You need to understand that your palate is the palate that communicates to an audience who have different tastes from you. You need to eat voraciously and sometimes that can be to the detriment of your health.

Second of all, you need to earn your place in this very competitive industry. Just because you have a stomach and a laptop doesn’t make you a writer, publisher or editor. What makes you those things is hard work, and a relationship with publications that will nurture and shape you. I think in an age where we do things all by ourselves, it’s very easy to claim status that isn’t earned. There are a lot of people out there who think that because they’ve done a season of a reality show, that makes them an editor, or because they have a blog that makes them a publisher. It’s a wonderful start, but in order to really be a writer you need to pull that thread and you need to earn it.

" ...if you want to be a good writer, you need to be a good eater."

On social media quandaries:
I think ethics are really important, especially where social media is concerned. There’s a really muddy area – it’s often unclear as to whether things are sponsored or given. For me, [it’s about] going back to old-school journalistic ethics and clarity, hard work and attention to detail, fact-checking and grammar – god forbid grammar. These things sound really basic, but they’re sorely lacking in this industry sometimes.

On America’s fast-paced food scene:
I have spent a lot of time in L.A. It’s sort of like my third home – Sydney, rural Tasmania and then L.A. I love the cultural diversity of the place. There’s such a strong Mexican theme. I’m always excited to see what I’ve missed in 12 months of not being there. It’s the same with New York. My friend [ex- Ms. G’s chef] Paul Donnelly recently opened Chinese Tuxedo, which just had its first NYT review, so I’m really excited to go there and support him.