Poh Ling Yeow is one of the most recognisable figures of MasterChef Australia, but after an intense cook-off, she was ultimately eliminated from the cooking competition on Sunday night.
Her joyous chaotic energy made her a fan favourite of the season, but in an exclusive chat with Now To Love, the season one runner-up has shut down claims that she was deliberately causing drama on the show - and that the new judges were playing favourites.
Now To Love: Congratulations on getting so far Poh. How does it feel to have so many people supporting you around the country?
Poh: The main feeling I felt was immense gratitude – I just feel so lucky to be able to do what I love and have such loving support behind me from the Australian public, it feels very very lovely. I have no complaints, seriously!
The thing is, with any kind of journey where you're honestly trying to have an authentic experience, you have to take the lows with the highs. Without the lows you wouldn't appreciate the highs, so I always look at everything as a whole and I've come out of it with absolutely no regrets, loving every moment. I got everything that I wanted out of it.
So no regrets at all?
Of course, but I dealt with it at the time. I ruminate for a few days and then you do a good cook and you're like 'Oh that was all good, I love it, I can do it.'
That's just part of it - what it teaches you about yourself, how you behave in pressurised situations, wrangling your emotions and how to deal when you're doing something that you love – and I find that really interesting. I have this weird ability to switch to fly-on-the-wall looking at myself and I really enjoy that social aspect of the competition as well.
You were one of the most warm yet chaotic contestants of the seasons? What do you make of everyone's reactions to your one-of-a-kind energy?
You either love it or hate it! I don't really read anything because I want this to be for me and not anybody else. I'm only on Instagram and I think for the most part it's a very positive platform so I've hardly had any negative comments, but I have seen a few accusing me of deliberately causing drama and it's not that at all.
It's me deliberately trying to create a higher bar every time I cook, because being a cultural cook is about showing ways of eating and a way of treating ingredients that you can't get if you only cook one dish.
I was always trying to contextualise the food in a way that showed the judges something different culturally and because of that I was always pushing myself to do more than one dish and that is what always pushed me over the edge. If I had spare time I'd be like 'Maybe I can squeeze in another dish', so it was always about challenging myself.
WATCH BELOW: Where to find the MasterChef contestants' restaurants around Australia. Post continues after video...
Some contestants were a bit more hesitant to come back on MasterChef. Did you have reservations or were you keen from the get-go?
I was like with bells on, right away a resounding yes. I was standing there, whiskey in my hand ready to go!
I actually fantasised about this happening again because I thought 'I'd like to see how I fare now a bit wiser with some experience under my belt and so much more cultural knowledge about a variety of cuisines.' I wondered how I would perform under that pressure again, it was a genuine experiment for me to see how I would go.
This season has been praised for showcasing the many cuisines and cultures in Australia. Would you say that's been a big change since you were on in season one?
I feel like in the first few seasons there was quite little representation and I could probably get away with more in a way. It was nice to have that bar raised and have the Khanhs, the Brendans, the Aminas and the Roses representing these cultures and it felt really good.
Cultural food is where it's at for me – I will dine high-end once a year but for me it's all about peasant cooking and how the food is informed by cultures, that's what really gets me going.
You praised the new judges for what they've brought to MasterChef season 12. What would you say is the main difference between Jock, Mel and Andy and the old judges?
For me, the most significant difference was that feminine energy of Mel to connect to. It was nice to have that representation from an ex contestant [Andy] and then Mel has got this beautiful, feminine, cultural energy- she's so eloquent and sensitive how she talks about food so evocatively. And then Jock has a really wicked palette – he can shovel five mouthfuls of food into his mouth and pick every single ingredient and how you got it to that spot.
They offer really different skill sets and of course they're three different individuals so of course they're going to inject a different mood into the kitchen but it's been a really lovely experience to go through that with them for the first time.
It's very much like my experience on season one – we were all going through that for the first time on season one, so I found that really interesting as well – the relationship between the contestants and the new judges.
Fans have also said there's a lot of favouritism going on between the judges and certain contestants - yourself included. What would you say about that?
You can't even go there, because it's absolutely judged by the food not the person – I can absolutely attest to that. The only thing I find really strange is how many people judge things when they're not tasting it.
It could be hideous and taste delicious and then something can look amazing but have major technical faults. If you're not there actually doing it, I find it really strange that people make such extreme calls and are so impassioned about it.
We've seen some really heartbreaking eliminations this season too. Who was it the hardest to say goodbye to?
It was really tough for me personally to say goodbye to Rose because I'm really close to her and she's an SA contestant and Amina and Jess of course. Everyone really – the thing about this whole comp was I was just so impressed with the calibre of person on it.
These guys are all really good people and people that I would keep in touch with outside of the competition. It was all really hard, my heart went out to them - Courtney went out second! I hated it – I used to put myself in their shoes and quietly stand there and be really reverent for that moment.
We're not first-time contestants, we've all given up a lot to be there. We've got established careers that we've left, relationships and all sorts of things and I know a lot of people wouldn't think twice about that, but it is a really huge sacrifice so my heart went out to everyone every time.
I wouldn't want to say a single person because it just diminishes what people are experiencing.
And finally, who do you think will win?
I'm not into predicting, I really like to see the natural selection happen. As you go through the competition, it's really interesting to see who thrives under pressure.
Like Emelia – that girl doesn't break pace for anybody, she is so calm. She just has this ability to zone in and is very astute in the kitchen and keeps her wits about her so she's definitely one to watch. Callum is another really full-on competitor- he's so lovely but he's very strategic.
Then you have Reece who is amazing with flavour combos, Laura who's so young but is such a gun in the kitchen with so much experience under her belt and Reynold's who's the amazing little dessert wizard. It's so hard to pinpoint - don't make me do it!