MasterChef's Melissa Leong in tears over racism on The Project

MasterChef’s Melissa Leong had to fight back tears during a national interview on The Sunday Project last night after host Lisa Wilkinson asked her to discuss her experience of racism from the public since joining the hit show.

The 38-year-old delivered a powerful message against racism in the segment but had to battle through some visceral emotion to get there, fighting back tears as she discussed fellow judge Jock Zonfrillo standing up to bullies online for her, and her childhood memories of hearing the same insults hurled at her.

Melissa Leong The Project
Melissa Leong showed her vulnerable side in an emotional interview about her experience of racism. Photo: Channel 10

Back in July, Scottish-born South Australian Jock took to Instagram to publically shame a vile message of hate sent in by a fan, who used an ugly slur to criticising Melissa.

The judge took to Instagram with a screenshot of the message, deciding to expose the man’s name for all to see as a way of naming and shaming some of the vitriol the judges, and Melissa in particular, deal with on a daily basis.

Melissa says incident ‘important’ in fight against racism

Lisa Wilkinson The Project Melissa Leong racism MasterChef interview
Lisa asked Melissa to discuss the incident and how it impacted her on a personal level. Photo: Channel 10

Reflecting on the incident, Melissa could be seen taking a deep breath, before telling Lisa she thought that kind of ‘allyship’ was incredibly important.

“To be a white man calling out racism is important,” Melissa said. “You know Jock has become such a dear friend he’s one of my work husbands and he’s just a great human being in terms of the way he sees others, that right there is a perfect example of allyship.”


Asked by Lisa if discussing the incident had stirred any memories of similar behaviour Melissa said it ‘absolutely’ had, revealing that as a child she had to ask her parents the meaning of racist terms she was called by her fellow students at school

“I think as a kid, you just want to be accepted by the people around you and largely I was,” Melissa said.

Melissa leong as baby on the Project
Melissa reflected on the impact the same words had had on her a child growing up Chinese Australian. Photo: Channel 10

“I remember very clearly times in my childhood at school where I would be called names and I would have to go home and ask mum what does this mean and to have a parent explain what racism means that’s something that you don’t forget.”

Asked by Lisa if she thought her emotions were important for people to witness, melissa admitted it was tricky to let her guard down, but ultimately very important.

“Yeah it’s tough as a human being I pride myself on being resilient and being competent and smashing through all the challenges that I have,” Melissa told the veteran journalist. “I think it’s important to be vulnerable and to pay attention to your emotions.”

“If the experiences in my childhood have helped me become strong, then I can articulate those experiences and perhaps tell people out there that have gone through the same thing that they’re not alone.”

Click here to sign up to our daily newsletter to get all the latest news and hacks. Or if you have a story tip, email us at