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The Design Files: A Day In The Life

The Design Files Melissa Leong

I have been freelancing for over a decade as a writer, journalist, television presenter, media/communications consultant, editor and general food industry dogsbody. No day is ever the same, but nonetheless, I attempted to explain what a day in my life looks like, to the fine people at The Design Files. I have been a fan of Lucy Feagins and her impeccable style and design website for so long, and it is truly a dream come true, to be featured among its beautiful pages.

Click here to read the story!

Photos by Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!