Masterchef

EXCLUSIVE: MasterChef fan-favourite Poh Ling Yeow reveals why she's coming back as a contestant, not a judge, this season

''It's going to be a ripper season.''

By Rebecca Sullivan
It's late on a Friday afternoon, a time when most of us are counting down the minutes until we can enjoy a well-earned drink after work, but clocking off is the last thing on MasterChef star Poh Ling Yeow's mind right now.
The 46-year-old former MasterChef contestant and mentor, who will soon return to our TV screens for the show's 12th season alongside three brand new judges, is halfway through her "10 to 12 hour" working day, which currently starts at 5am and finishes around 7pm.
She is calling Now To Love from the MasterChef set in Melbourne, where much-loved contestants like herself, along with fan-favourites Reynold Poernomo and Hayden Quinn, have returned to the kitchen where they transformed from passionate home cooks into household names.
Poh says she's right back where she wants to be.
"I was a mentor last year and I'm back in the other side, but I enjoy being on this side better. I love the competition," Poh told Now To Love.
"[As a mentor], I was so distracted by my own thoughts about what I would make if I got that ingredient," she explained.
"I miss the thrill of going into a space when you're really fearful of what is going to happen and being able to dig deep and produce a beautiful dish that you would never think of making."
Poh was crowned runner-up in the very first season of MasterChef Australia. Now she's back as a contestant in the brand new 2020, only this time she has a decade of professional experience under her belt. Image: Channel 10
After working in the food industry for a decade since she came runner-up to Julie Goodwin during MasterChef's debut season in 2009, Poh has realised there are some unique perks that come with cooking in the MasterChef kitchen, compared to Australia's famously ruthless hospitality industry.
Her Jamface by Poh cafe, based at Adelaide Central Market, closed in 2019 after operating for three years, but she is about to open a new Jamface site at Melbourne Airport.
"In real life, you can't just put things on your menu that you love and you think are delicious," Poh says.
"They have to fit into economic parameters, and not everyone loves to eat what you love to eat."
Poh says she is thrilled to be back in the MasterChef kitchen. Image: Instagram
When former MasterChef judges George Calombaris, Matt Preston and Garry Mehigan announced their shock departure from the show last July, many fans assumed a familiar face like Poh would be an obvious - and smart - replacement.
But as she reveals exclusively to Now To Love, Poh says the role was never offered up to her by Channel 10.
"If I had been asked, I would have had to think about it deeply," she explains, adding that reports she was being considered for a judge role were "just rumours".
"I can't tell how I would feel unless I was asked."
Poh pictured with former judge Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris. Image: Instagram
In fact, remaining a free agent, and not hamstrung by a strict Channel 10 contract, actually works out perfectly for Poh's big future plans.
"I want to make my own TV and take the reigns a bit more, and I'm at the cusp of doing that," she revealed.
"I've got so many projects I've been dying to get up that would have had to be put on the back burner [if she were to return as a judge], so I think this has worked out perfectly.
"I am just really enjoying being a part of this new era. It's going to be a ripper season."
And for the record, Poh only has high praise for the show's three new judges - Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo - who she says are doing "such an amazing job".
Poh says she wants to eventually run her own TV projects. Image: Instagram
But her intense filming schedule, combined with freelance recipe-writing and working on her Jamface business, leaves Poh very little time for the simple pleasures in life.
She loves to paint and read, but sadly both of those hobbies have fallen by the wayside lately.
So Poh has become an ambassador for Audible, because their audiobooks allow busy people like herself to multitask and still indulge their love of reading while getting stuff done.
"Books were starting to fade away in my life. Everyone has to live at such a full speed pace to survive and all these little cultural things that enrich your life get pushed out of the way," she explained.
She listens to audiobooks "when I'm in the kitchen and in the car, sometimes when I'm in the garden" and has just started Samin Nosrat's book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, which has been adapted into a hugely popular Netflix series.
"I was such a huge reader when I was younger. I really miss them being in my life, so it's been really great to have the option of having an audiobook on while I'm busy. It's really awesome."
WATCH BELOW: See why Poh is returning to the MasterChef kitchen in 2020. Story continues after video.
For now, Poh and her fellow MasterChef contestants are doing everything they can to get through those gruelling long days of filming.
Every evening, the group returns to their shared apartments not far from the show's set, with each contestant bunking with a roommate.
While the outcome of this season is unknown, whatever the result, Poh says the connections she has made with her co-stars already make her feel like a winner.
"I've made a lot of incredible friendships on the show," she said.
"It's a real hot house of energy and inspiration."
As for what Poh will do next? We know Australia will be staying tuned.
To try out an audiobook yourself, head to audible.com.au/reallife and sign up for a free 30 day trial.