Imposter Syndrome Is Real: For Poh Ling Yeow, Becoming a MasterChef Judge Was “Intimidating”

Poh ling yeow judge
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Poh Ling Yeow has proven that she’s a woman of many talents. Sixteen years have passed since she cooked (and smiled) her way into hearts around the country as a contestant on the first season of MasterChef Australia. Now, in between her life as an artist, successful TV chef and author, she’s returned to the competition kitchen as a judge.

The sudden passing of beloved judge Jock Zonfrillo and Melissa Leong’s departure from the show left a gap in MasterChef Australia‘s lineup. So, Poh — alongside French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and food critic Sofia Levin — joined Andy Allen as judges of the 16th season. This opened the franchise up to new dynamics and fresh faces that have captured Australia’s attention.

Related: Melissa Leong Won’t Be Returning to “MasterChef Australia” in 2024

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When asked what makes this season different, Poh told POPSUGAR Australia that they’ve brought back the relatability of the show.

“We’ve gone back to Season 1. It’s less fancy cooking. It’s really good home cooking with a lot of classic technique,” she shared. “I think halfway through the seasons we’ve had so far, we got a little bit too fancy. I think we definitely lost audiences from it because I think people still need to be able to relate to it so that they can apply it to their normal lives.”

Poh also got candid about the imposter syndrome she faced in the transition from contestant to judge.

Poh Ling Yeow’s Journey from MasterChef Australia Contender to Critic

Since taking home second place in 2008 to Julie Goodwin, Poh has been a fixture of the Aussie food scene. Fans of MasterChef Australia have seen her technique and screen presence evolve over multiple stints as a guest chef and celebrity contestant. But the move from contender to MasterChef Australia judge came with new challenges, and notes that there are “two very different pressures” on each side of the judging table.

Of competing, Poh recalled: “Your brain is so fried. You do get creative fatigue, it’s just part of the parcel.”

“I was always trying to figure out — should I do Asian or should I do European? Should I do dessert? Should I do savoury? What should I show off next to show technique [and] show that I’m versatile?”

Her experience as a contestant involved more “freedom” because she was reacting to the challenge and doing her thing. On the other hand, her time as judge has felt more careful and pedantic.

“As a judge, I feel like I’m being really scrutinised — like every word that I’m saying, the way I look or whatever.”

Poh said that the idea of acknowledging herself an expert — and having the world think that too — made saying yes to the job “very intimidating”.

“I’m telling the world that I’m an expert and I kind of hate that because I want to just be… I don’t know, your neighbourhood cook,” she said. “I’ve always seen my calling as a home cook, teaching home cooks to be better home cooks. So standing up there, I’m very aware that when I don’t have knowledge in areas. I don’t know whether people pick up on it and criticise me or whatever.”

But at the end of the day, Poh figured that regardless of what people had to say, she could only be herself. A relatable queen!

Poh’s Advice to Future MasterChef Australia Contestants

Poh’s past experience in the competition and success thereafter has proved to other home cooks that MasterChef Australia can be a catalyst for a career in food. She hopes that this year’s contestants will walk away feeling positive about the experience, but also knowing that beyond the competition doors, there’s a level of self-reliance that they need to have to continue culinary pursuits.

“When you’re on the show, you have have this huge machine, this juggernaut supporting you. You’re in people’s faces like four nights a week, and without it, you have to push your own cart. You can’t rely on things dropping in front of you,” she explained.

She also weighed in on the benefits and pitfalls of staring a career in food on MasterChef Australia now, as opposed to 16 years ago.

“When I did it in Season 1, there was no social media and so, landing a TV show… wasn’t really something you could hope for at all. It just happened to me. I was very lucky,” Poh said. “However, now there’s social media, you can have your own cooking show on your platform. You can absolutely be the driver of whatever you want.”

If “trust the process” was a person — it would be Poh.

The MasterChef judge also stressed the importance of coming into the competition kitchen with a “humble plan”, because in Poh’s words: “There’s something about forcing things that can make it go wrong. I think if you’re not expecting it, there’s something about that vibe that make you open to and almost invite experiences that you might not be expecting but might have a better outcome.”

You can catch more of Poh’s wisdom every Sunday — Wednesday night when MasterChef Australia airs on 10 and 10 Play.

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