Nothing says ratings success cooking show quite like the MasterChef franchise.
And, with Junior MasterChef Australia returning to our screens this Sunday night, B&T chatted with judge Melissa Leong to understand just how the series continues to be beloved by Australia, what to expect from the new kid-focused season and why diversity on screen matters.
On the major success of MasterChef earlier this year and what it was like stepping into big shoes, Leong said: “It was such a wonderful opportunity, and tremendously exciting. There’s no way obviously to tell how things will be received, so we just focused on doing the best that we could and bring each of our unique perspectives on food to the MasterChef kitchen.
“The results speak for themselves, we are just so thrilled with how everyone has received it. We hope to continue to be able to celebrate people’s food stories, which is the most important thing.”
Speaking to what it’s like stepping into a new era of something that’s been so wildly successful, Leong said there is a “unifying thread” through MasterChef’s history and that is that it’s about the celebration of food.
“That’s the true hero of the MasterChef show. Judges will come and go, but the heart and soul of the brand is that love and celebration of food.”
Leong has also been a fierce advocate for more diversity in Australian media, and says she’s pleased that’s resonated with Aussie viewers.
“In terms of diversity, who I am is the only person I can be,” she said. “To be able to represent a change in the way that people are represented is amazing.
“I see it as opening the door for everybody who has not felt adequately represented in the past because it’s about ability, it’s about identity, it’s about age, it’s about so many different things other than just cultural identity – although cultural identity is incredibly important. I’m very proud to be part of this conversation currently happening in Australian media.”
How did MasterChef Junior go about casting with diversity in mind?
“In terms of casting competitors, MasterChef has always been an incredibly diverse place,” says Leong.
“If you look at former contestants across all of the seasons, junior or the regular season, it has always been a place that celebrates cultural diversity and the stories of families from all across the world. That bit doesn’t change, that will always be the way that it is and we will hopefully continue to celebrate cultures that haven’t been represented in the past.”
Leong added, however, that diverse casting is a multi-layered effort.
“You need to think about applicants. So if people don’t apply, then we can’t represent them. And at the same time, we’re also looking at who can cook and who’s going to make great television as well. And wonderfully, that will always be a diverse group of people who bring perspectives from all over the world to the kitchen.”
On what to expect from the upcoming Junior MasterChef season, Leong said she was completely inspired by “joyful, fun, and fearless humans.”
“Kids have a really unburdened interpretation of meeting [cooking] challenges. I think as we grow older, we take on various levels of baggage. The kids are encouraged to just be themselves. It’s completely unfiltered. And I think that there’s so much to learn as adults from watching kids just be themselves. It was a really fresh and inspiring experience throughout.”
Junior Masterchef Australia 2020, which premieres October 11 2020 at 7.30pm.
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