MasterChef Australia 2024 judge Poh Ling Yeow

MasterChef Australia 2024 judge Poh Ling Yeow. Photo: Channel 10

'The universe has other plans': MasterChef's Poh Ling Yeow on how she finally came to be a TV judge after 15 years

The celebrity chef first appeared on the cooking show as a contestant in 2009.

When it comes to household names that are launched from the MasterChef Australia franchise, Poh Ling Yeow is undoubtedly one of the first that comes to mind. The now-50-year-old shot to fame after finishing as runner-up behind Julie Goodwin in 2009. Since then, she’s returned to the show in various capacities – as a guest as well as a contestant in an all-stars version – but never as an official judge. 

While fans and industry peers have hoped to see Yeow become a judge on the beloved cooking series for a while, it’s finally now – 15 years after her reality TV debut – that this dream has come to fruition. According to Yeow, no one is more surprised than her. 

“It's really interesting because so many people in my life seem to have preempted this before I did,” Yeow tells Missing Perspectives. “Even my parents would ask me all the time… would you go on if you got invited to be a judge?” 

Yeow says she always politely declined, because she believed she never “had the right type of energy to be top of room”. She always considered herself to be more of a contestant than a judge. So, what changed when she got the call to judge Season 16? 

“I was at this point after mum passed away where I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m just gonna settle down to paint for a bit and just have a couple of years of contemplation pursuing a few projects that are still in the pipeline,” she explains. “Every time I do this,” she laughs, “ the universe has other plans”. 

MasterChef Australia 2024 judges Sofia Levin, Andy Allen, Poh Ling Yeow and Jean-Christophe Novelli

MasterChef Australia 2024 judges Sofia Levin, Andy Allen, Poh Ling Yeow and Jean-Christophe Novelli. Photo: Channel 10

Yeow joins the show alongside fellow first-time MasterChef Australia judges, Sofia Levin and Jean-Christophe Novelli, as well as Andy Allen who’s been a judge since 2020. The new panel comes after previous judge Jock Zonfrillo’s death last year, and Melissa Leong’s departure to focus on the MasterChef: Dessert Masters spin-off and other creative projects. With many variables, there was a lot for Yeow to consider in accepting the position.

“I needed to recalibrate and consider all the aspects, the responsibility and the fact that the opportunity was made possible by such a tragic event,” she says. “There were so many layers to the decision that made me have to really contemplate hard, but in the end, it's just such a crazy full circle moment that feels fated somehow.”

Any avid viewer of MasterChef knows that the on-screen dynamic between the judges is just as important as the talents of the contestants. Each of these judges come from various walks of life. Allen won MasterChef in 2012, and has four seasons as a judge up his sleeve. Novelli is an experienced French chef and restaurateur, while Levin is a seasoned food writer and critic. 

“I really did have faith in the ensemble,” Yeow reflects. “I think we all have such different approaches to the way we cook and also we have such different personalities which makes for good viewing. We get along like a house on fire.” 

Of course, everyone has their own palates and preferences, so viewers can expect a few disagreements come tasting time. 

“Sometimes three will love something or it will be two against two,” Yeow laughs. “It’s four people from such different ways of looking at food.” 

In addition to the regular judging panel, every season features a lineup of well-known celebrity chefs who either do cooking demonstrations, set creative challenges or appear as guest judges.This year’s guest judges include Anna Polyviou, Jamie Oliver, Mikiko Terasaki and Vincent Yeow Lim (AKA DimSimLim). 

In 2024, 22 home cooks will go head-to-head in the kitchen for a chance to win $250,000 in prize money. They are Alex Crisp, Darrsh Clarke, David Tan, Gillian Dinh, Harry Butterfield, James Holmes, Jonathan Hooper, Josh Clarke, Josh Perry, Juan De La Cruz Torales Villarreal, Khristian Walker, Lachlan Whittle, Lily Davies, Lourdes Leschen, Mimi Wong, Nat Thaipun, Savindri Perera, Snezana Calic, Steph Griffen, Stephen Dennis, Sue Bazely and Sumeet Saigal. 

MasterChef Australia 2024 premieres on Monday, April 22 at 7:30pm on Channel 10 and 10 Play.