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.
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.

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. 


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

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.