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A breakdown in her 20s and an unplanned elopement: Inside MasterChef's Melissa Leong's life.

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Ever since the revamped MasterChef Australia returned to our screens, new judge Melissa Leong’s incredible charisma, talent, and let’s be frank, fashion, has dazzled the Australian public.

As her fan base grows with every appearance on the revamped Channel Ten cooking show, the food and travel writer has started to open up about her personal life.

Last week, viewers met her husband Joe Jones after a brief cameo on MasterChef, and today she’s opened up in the We Are The Real Ones podcast about her struggles with mental health.

WATCH: Melissa Leong on MasterChef helping to calm down contestant Dani.

Video by Ten/Instagram @Fooderati

Born in Sydney to parents who immigrated from Singapore in the 70s, Leong first studied accounting and economics and worked in digital advertising before eventually turning her love for food into her full-time job.

In an interview with Design Files last year, she said working in advertising “left her unfulfilled and fantasising about pushing her boss out the window”.

A lifelong passion for food saw her make the switch, and now she’s worked in practically every facet of the Australian media food space. In TV, she’s worked on Everyday Gourmet, The Cook’s Pantry and the Chef’s Line, but Leong is also a cookbook editor, food media consultant, travel writer and radio host. Her Instagram, which operates under the name “Fooderati”, is filled with delectable food photos.

 

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But behind her smiling demeanour and infectious energy, Leong shared that she has been dealing with her mental health for years.

“I started going to therapy in my early to mid 20s. I had a breakdown, I’ll be really honest. I don’t hide it but I don’t advertise that either,’’ she told the We Are The Real Ones podcast.

“It has been part of my life and my story. It was an instance of too much on the plate and the plate ended up breaking under the weight of all those things.”

She says she has done a lot of work since on being in touch with how she is feeling, telling the podcast: “The only person who can pick you up and put you back together and help you navigate all of the struggles in life, is you.”

“There are some times when I just need to go into a quiet space and shut the door and have half an hour to myself,” she added.

“If I need a day like that where I just need that little bubble of time, it could be 10 minutes, I will tell them [the MasterChef crew] and they will find the next available opportunity for me to just have a minute. It doesn’t take long, it could just be five minutes, just to kind of be quiet and then you gather yourself and keep going.”

Leong also struggles from anxiety, which she says is sparked by walking into a room full of people she doesn’t know.

“If I know you, then great, if I know I’m walking into a room full of people I do not know then I’m racked with anxiety,” she told the podcast.

In her younger years, Leong was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition that left her bedridden for months. However, as she told Stellar last year, she is proud of her “scars”.

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Leong’s husband Joe also works in food.

He is a classically French-trained chef and owns Melbourne cocktail bar, Romeo Lane.

The couple met after being introduced by a mutual friend. In February 2017, they eloped to the Californian desert and got married in a ’60s rock’n’roll themed ceremony.

Sharing the story of her engagement with Vogue, she said it happened after a casual conversation over dinner one evening.

“Over dinner, Joe asked me ‘So, how does eloping work exactly? Do you need to get engaged first?’ I told him I had about as much idea as he did (none), so instead, we decided to speculate on where we’d run away to, if we did decide to elope. The all-knowing dice decided that our already planned trip to the US in three-ish months would be it, so we just went with it,” she said.

 

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We’ve been married for three years today… ⁣ ⁣ Mel is in the depths of one of the most challenging, defining career moves of her life, and the things I’ve wanted to occur in my spectrum of work for the last decade are finally coming to pass (more on that another time…).⁣ ⁣ So between 6am call times for @masterchefau and my self loathing fuelled 17 day straight stints at work, we’re not going to see a lot of each other today, because duty calls!⁣ ⁣ The sentiment behind my feelings is that most things worth doing aren’t always easy and have the capacity to be dramatic and really stressful at certain times, but I sort of believe the hard parts of your life overlapping and trying to dissolve your comfort is what living really is, and even if it gets heaps harder – I’m still happy to do it with you @fooderati Happy anniversary x

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The pair have two cats – Ghost, who MasterChef fans caught a glimpse of on-screen and who also regularly pops up on Leong and Jones’ social media, and the much more camera-shy Ghoul.

When Melissa Leong was announced as one of the new MasterChef judges, tweets she wrote seven years ago about MasterChef Australia’s credibility as a training ground for aspiring chefs resurfaced, with some questioning her apparent negativity.

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But as she told Stellar at the time, “the tweet had nothing to do with MasterChef at all. The comment was actually about entitlement. In hospitality, we pride ourselves on doing work. And the comment was, ‘If you want to be a chef, by all means, go on a show like MasterChef, and those doors will open for you. But take that opportunity and use it to go out there and do that hard work.”

She told the publication she thought long and hard about accepting the judging position on MasterChef, given the scrutiny it would invite into her life and of those she loves.

She admitted that she’d only watched a handful of episodes before signing on.

Over the past few years, Leong has shared bits and bobs of her life with the public.

After giving up on her advertising career, she took a two-year sabbatical, flying to Tasmania to stay with a guy who owned a local abattoir.

“I spent time on the killing floor, learning how to meat pack, and milk sheep, and make cheese. It sounds like an Eat Pray Love moment because I guess it was,” she told Stellar. “It allowed me to be very hands-on with food and was the most generous and powerful education I could’ve ever been given.”

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Speaking to the Design Files in 2019, she said she wishes she could say she “gets up and meditates,” but she actually sits and scrolls on social media and checks her email first thing in the morning.

Leong also spoke about her love of fashion (evident to all MasterChef viewers).

“I’m not mad that the television and MC part of my job means that I get to play dress-ups. Fashion is my sport, so any chance to get dressed up, is welcome,” she said.

Like the rest of us, Leong is social distancing at the moment amid the COVID-19 pandemic, sharing on Instagram: “I really miss group exercise. It keeps me sane as well as healthy and I’ve been in love with pilates since recovering from a back injury a few years ago.”

 

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I really miss group exercise. It keeps me sane as well as healthy and I’ve been in love with pilates since recovering from a back injury a few years ago. For me, it’s the single most beneficial thing for definition and flexibility, but more importantly, strength. ⁣ ⁣ I miss the community spirit created by @catwebb__ at her studio @goodtimespilates, and its inclusive feels, but iso life doesn’t mean giving up what you love. ⁣ ⁣ Check out your favourite studio or gym’s online classes, try free workouts like the great ones on @popsugarfitness, and when you need a little motivation, a cute outfit doesn’t hurt the cause (this one was a gift from my girl @annahrist’s Aussie label @contrologyactive and her pieces are form and function perfection!). ⁣ ⁣ Keep moving for mental health, for fun, and for more pasta!

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As both the first female and first Asian Masterchef Australia judge in 11 years of the show, Leong knows how incredibly important that is.

In her chat with Stellar, she said: “I think Sandra Oh put it best when she spoke about not being seen, and then seeing yourself represented.”

Feature image: Channel Ten/Instagram. 

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