Work

Writing In Colour: Notes On Diversity In Food Writing

In this month’s @hospitalitymagazine, I was asked to write about my perspective on food writing as a person of colour in Australia, and I asked a bunch of chefs and restaurateurs (of different backgrounds), to weigh in on whether any of it matters.⁣

Thank you to Dan Hong, Palisa Anderson, Victor Liong, Jerry Mai, Joel Valvasori, Aaron Turner and Khanh Nguyen, for your thoughtful insight.
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Thank you also, to editor @annabellecloros for allowing me to contribute to the global discussion on diversity in our industry. It’s an important issue, but then again so is competence, tone and respect.

Click here to read the story.

Come See Me At The Curated Plate On The Sunshine Coast August 8 - 11!

I’m thrilled to be hosting a couple of delicious events at the inaugural year for The Curated Plate, on Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast August 8 - 11, featuring some of Australia and New Zealand’s hottest chef talent.


The Chefs' Line Airs on Netflix

Netflix August 2019

Netflix August 2019

Two years ago, I would have laughed in your face if you’d told me I’d be co-host and judge on a show on @netflix with my pals @hongsta_gram and @markblackolive, and alongside trail blazing shows I’ve loved and admired.⁣
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Since then, my world has opened up so much, and I’m so humbled by the crazy things I get to call work these days, in addition to my job as a food and travel writer. ⁣⁣
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We filmed Season 1 of #thechefsline so long ago it feels like a distant memory (would someone tell me never to cut a fringe?!), but if you’re new to the show, thank you for watching!

Click here to watch now! #netflix


Food In Times Of Crisis...What Do We Eat?

Aired Wednesday 6 February, 2019, 2.45pm

Aired Wednesday 6 February, 2019, 2.45pm

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.

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.


Family Recipes From Around The World

QLD syndication for News Ltd Regional September 2018

QLD syndication for News Ltd Regional September 2018

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.


Hospitality Magazine: Are Restaurant Awards Relevant?

Published: Hospitality Magazine August 2018

Published: Hospitality Magazine August 2018

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.


Fooderati visits Justine Schofield on Everyday Gourmet

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!

 

The Dark Side of Hospitality

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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. 

Hospitality March 2018 11.jpg

The Chefs' Line Conquers India!

The Chefs' Line Conquers India

Home cooks battle against the pros on The Chefs’ Line, and celebrated Australian food writer and judge, Melissa Leong, weighs in

The prospect of a home cook going up against a professional chef on a competitive culinary game show seems daunting and terrifying. But Melissa Leong, food writer and one of three judges on the recently-launched show, The Chefs’ Line, doesn’t think it’s an uneven playing field. The Australian cooking show that premièred last week on Zee Café, has a unique premise: in 13 episodes across the season, home cooks battle against professional chefs, focusing on a specific cuisine for each episode.

Melissa Leong 2.jpeg

“On the surface, you think that professionals going against amateurs is a no brainer. But we can’t forget that home cooks bring with them generations of handed down knowledge, love, passion and technique about their culture, or, in some cases, they have fallen so in love with a particular cuisine that they have devoted a lot of time to learning about it,” says Leong, who has a background in journalism and radio broadcasting.

Judge’s corner

Hosted by famed Australian food personality Maeve O’Meara, The Chefs’ Line is judged by Leong, along with native ingredient expert and chef, Mark Olive, and renowned restaurateur and chef, Dan Hong. When asked about how she got involved with the show, she says, “Hong pitched the idea and I found it interesting. The idea of passion versus profession is a lot more evenly matched than you think. You’re in for a few surprises in terms of what people produced on the show,” says Leong who is making her television debut with the show.

Shot over a span of six weeks, the culinary challenge showcases a range of global cuisines, each chosen to reflect the breadth of Australia’s multicultural make-up. “We were shooting for long hours during the summer, sometimes shooting two episodes over a day,” Leong says, adding, “The question that we asked ourselves as judges was ‘Was it delicious? Would I go back for more?’”

Read the full story in The Hindu here!

Traveller's HOT FOOD LIST 2017

Traveller.com.au published November 3, 2017

Traveller.com.au published November 3, 2017

Ever wanted to know what travel tips food people have up their sleeves? The beautiful and talented Nina Karnikowski interviewed a host of chefs and food people including Christine Manfield, Sepia's Martin Benn and Saskia Beer...oh and me! For our top tips on eating well on the road. 

MELISSA LEONG FOOD WRITER AND HOST OF SBS THE CHEF'S LINE

FOOD AND TRAVEL GO PERFECTLY TOGETHER BECAUSE…

Food is the easiest way to dip a toe in the proverbial water when experiencing a new place. It's a historical, emotional connection to the place you're in and it has a great capacity to bring back memories long after you've returned home.  

MY LAST GREAT FOOD AND TRAVEL EXPERIENCE WAS…

My elopement and honeymoon in the US earlier this year, which included eating the best tacos of my life in the back of a Mexican supermarket in the Yucca Valley in California, swilling too many Negronis at a dive bar in LA, and trying turtle Bolognaise in New Orleans. 

MY GREATEST EVER FOOD AND TRAVEL EXPERIENCE WAS…

My first trip to Sri Lanka several years ago. I spent two-and-a-half weeks travelling the island, eating string hoppers and seeni sambol for breakfast, crab curry at sunset in Galle, learning about Ayurvedic food-as-medicine in the jungle, and cooking grilled meats over coconut charcoal. 

MY NEXT FOOD AND TRAVEL TRIP IS TO...

Singapore. My family and heritage is there, but more importantly, so is some of the most exciting food happening in the world right now. 

I KNOW THIS AMAZING LITTLE PLACE IN...

Rural Tasmania where you can get the best sushi and sashimi. Chef Masaaki at Masaaki's Sushi moved from Japan to Geeveston (about 90 minutes south of Hobart) – he's an avid surfer and fisherman, is always cheerful, and his food is always clean and ocean fresh. Worth the pilgrimage. 

THE BEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD FOR FOOD IS...

A hotly contentious subject! If I had to answer (in no particular order) Italy, France, Spain, Japan, Australia, Singapore and the US.

THE BEST CITY IN THE WORLD FOR FOOD IS...

New York. You could eat too many meals a day for decades and never be able to eat everywhere. The sheer diversity and breadth of cuisine, calibre and genre is mind blowing.

AIRLINE FOOD IS...Fantastic at the pointy end of the plane, but is always better across the board in Asia.
Read more: http://www.traveller.com.au/the-hot-food-list-2017-qa-gzbopq#ixzz53DenRW9V 
Follow us: @TravellerAU on Twitter | TravellerAU on Facebook

"...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.