Melissa Leong addresses ‘confusion’ around sudden MasterChef exit

Melissa Leong has addressed the “chaos” and “confusion” amid her MasterChef Australia departure, as she revealed why she left.

The co-judge of the Ten cooking show, who joined the series in 2020 with Andy Allen and the late Jock Zonfrillo, posted a second statement after news emerged on Monday she would not front the 2024 season.

“I get that there is going to be a bit of confusion and chaos about the ‘why’ of it all right now. I’m here and happy to clear that up, because negative tropes draped around women who achieve something is boring, and frankly we are all better than that,” she wrote.

“This is a shift I embrace with joy. One that allows everyone involved, to expand. To put it plainly, I’m very fortunate to continue to be a key part of [MasterChef], yet have the space to evolve my career.

“In effect, I get to have my cake and eat it too…and what could be better than that?!”

Earlier, the celebrated food critic thanked the network for its continued support while clarifying that she was not axed from the program as reported, but rather she was “stepping away” on her own terms.

“My time as co-host and judge on @MasterChefAU has been a great gift. To have been given the opportunity to learn and grow – and now to be given the vote of confidence to expand and evolve the MasterChef universe is huge!” Leong wrote alongside a Season 2 promo photo of her on Ten’s food program, Dessert Masters Australia, which she will co-host with pastry chef Amaury Guichon.

“Stepping away from the main show and into #DessertMastersAU alongside the extraordinary @AmauryGuichon, is yet another sweet present indeed.”

The major shake-up sees Leong replaced by 2009 MasterChef runner-up Poh Ling Yeow and Michelin star chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, who will appear alongside returning star Allen and food critic Sofia Levin as a fourth judge.

“It is with great warmth and enthusiasm that I wish this new line-up of judges and hosts all the best in making it theirs, and big love to @andyallencooks for leading the way,” Leong added.

“The changing of the guard is one I always planned to embrace, and I’m so glad to do that, on my terms, today.”

Leong said she was also “excited” for what the next chapter holds as she has been “working on behind the scenes” projects she can soon share with fans.

“My gratitude to our audience for all your support, can’t wait for you to see the new show. Love and respect always,” she concluded.

Leong’s Instagram statement comes one day after the Australian Financial Review reported she was axed from the flagship show, just weeks ahead of filming for Season 16.

A source close to the show told the publication Leong “was informed she would not appear in the next season earlier this month”, and “pre-production of the new season, which will air next year, has already commenced with new judges.”

Channel 10 has since released a statement on her surprise departure, in which they insisted Leong will remain a member of the MasterChef family.

“Melissa Leong remains a key member of the MasterChef Australia family. Melissa is set to return for a second season of Dessert Masters in 2024, alongside fellow judge and pastry prodigy Amaury Guichon,” the statement read.

“Next year, MasterChef Australia and Dessert Masters will air back-to-back, therefore each show needs its own distinct style and personality and its own unique hosting team.”

Leong joined MasterChef with co-hosts Andy Allen and Jock Zonfrillo in 2019 following the abrupt exit of Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris.

The line-up was rocked in April this year when Zonfrillo died suddenly on the eve of the show’s new season.

Zonfrillo was found dead by police in a Melbourne hotel room and it was later determined he died of natural causes. He was 46.

“Four years ago, the three of us stood on a precipice and leapt together,” she wrote in tribute to Zonfrillo.

“I could never have guessed how much of an impact your arrival in my life would have, or that we would be saying goodbye to you so soon. You were always supposed to be the bulletproof one who outlived us all.”

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