The Chefs' Line

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


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.


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.


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!


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!

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! 

13 Reasons Worth Going In For Seconds

From fabulous fusions, roll-your-eyes-back-in-your-head delicious recipes to on-screen grooving, food expertise and the quirky banter along the way,  #TheChefsLine  has delivered it all and then some. For the past 13 weeks, all of this has certainly filled my heart - this squad are the real deal when it comes to food TV.  Is it too soon to say I miss you? #needymuch me is ready to petition the A-team of Dan, Melissa, Mark and Maeve to cook me up some of their deliciousness. One can only dream, but seriously, throw a gal a bone - preferably with some lamb on it.    Whether you love to cook, love to eat or love to TV, this series reigns supreme among the food gods and #ICYMI the entire series is available on  SBS On Demand , perfect for those who love to binge on their viewing - we highly recommend snacks, of course.   So what is it about this series that has people wanting more? It's got it all.   1. Can't decide on one dish? Have them all!  For the record, we have over  100 recipes on our site right now  from the entire series, so you can watch and devour!    Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? Check out the      program page      for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more. Binge on the entire series right here on      SBS On Demand     .      13 weeks, 13 cuisines, one delicious sitting! In case you missed any of the fun you can binge until your heart's content right now on SBS On Demand. By Farah Celjo July 4, 2017

From fabulous fusions, roll-your-eyes-back-in-your-head delicious recipes to on-screen grooving, food expertise and the quirky banter along the way, #TheChefsLine has delivered it all and then some. For the past 13 weeks, all of this has certainly filled my heart - this squad are the real deal when it comes to food TV.

Is it too soon to say I miss you? #needymuch me is ready to petition the A-team of Dan, Melissa, Mark and Maeve to cook me up some of their deliciousness. One can only dream, but seriously, throw a gal a bone - preferably with some lamb on it.

Whether you love to cook, love to eat or love to TV, this series reigns supreme among the food gods and #ICYMI the entire series is available on SBS On Demand, perfect for those who love to binge on their viewing - we highly recommend snacks, of course.

So what is it about this series that has people wanting more? It's got it all.

1. Can't decide on one dish? Have them all!

For the record, we have over 100 recipes on our site right now from the entire series, so you can watch and devour!

Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? Check out the program page for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more. Binge on the entire series right here on SBS On Demand.

13 weeks, 13 cuisines, one delicious sitting! In case you missed any of the fun you can binge until your heart's content right now on SBS On Demand. By Farah Celjo July 4, 2017


"...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.

The Chefs' Line: ON AIR NOW ON SBS!

"Lights...cameras...just do your best, darling." 

The Chef's Line starts Monday 3 April on SBS. For all the latest, CLICK HERE.

52 television episodes shot over 26 days, in just 5 1/2 weeks...now THAT'S the definition of a pressure cooker! Earlier this year, inside a converted iron foundry - turned studio, I found out exactly what it takes to make a 5 day a week television show. The Chefs' Line is my first major TV gig, but as they say, go big or go home, right?

The premise of the show is simple: celebrating the incredible diversity of food culture we have in Australia, week by week, in the (now) very familiar format of a cooking competition show. Four home cooks adept in a specific cuisine, battle their way up the kitchen hierarchy of a restaurant specialising in the same food, as we ask the question: "Can home cook passion beat restaurant professionalism?". But don't take my word for it, check out SBS for the down low on the show, the players and plenty of recipes and links to episode catch ups, so you can binge watch in your own time, should you be so inclined.

On a more serious note, I'm excited and honoured to have been involved in this brand new show for SBS: being part of a prime time show where the key anchors are two first generation Australians of Asian descent and an Indigenous Australian. It makes me feel proud to see how far we have come as a nation and to challenge whose faces programmers think we want to see on the screen. SBS is a network built on the tenants of what makes our country great - celebrating our diversity and sharing the skills, knowledge and love from our original homes, to enrich this one...and I couldn't be happier to be part of showcasing the real face of this amazing country we call Australia. I hope you enjoy the show!