Growing up in Sydney’s southern suburbs ‘in a neighbourhood where migrant families like [Mel’s] were the exception rather than the rule’, Melissa Leong learned the value and importance of a strong work ethic from a young age. Her parents moved from Singapore to Sydney in the 70s, and ‘in typical migrant family style’, they sacrificed a lot for their kids to have every opportunity.
During her early career, Mel spent years working in a digital advertising career that left her unfulfilled and fantasising about pushing her boss out the window (her words, not mine!). A lifelong passion for food saw her spending all her spare time engrossed in food-related extracurricular activities – writing a blog, inventing recipes, and even flipping eggs on the weekends for a chef she admired, just for fun.
Mel’s blog was noticed by a local street press, who invited her to reinvigorate a defunct food column, which eventually led her to write for publications like Time Out Sydney and the Good Food Guides. Thanks to her charisma and street smarts, Mel accidentally took a detour into food PR, though eventually realised this wasn’t the space for her either. ‘One morning I woke up and decided to take a sabbatical’, she explains, and what was intended to be a 12-week break on a friend’s farm turned into a two-and-a-half year stint living on an abattoir and then a dairy farm.
Eventually heading back to Sydney to work on cookbooks with many of Australia’s most respected chefs, Mel’s world was suddenly brought to a halt after a life-changing auto-immune diagnosis that saw her bed bound for five months. ‘My hair started falling out, I couldn’t sleep, it was like a really, really bad hangover that lasted five months’, she tells. This difficult period in her life forced Mel to confront her tendency to burn out, and completely overhaul her relationship with her health. Daily exercise is now at the forefront of Mel’s routine, and knowing what projects to say ‘yes’ to and which ones to decline has been a key change.
These days Mel works as a consultant, food writer, and presenter on The Chef’s Line on SBS, and has found her sweet spot after recently moving from Sydney to Melbourne.
Mel’s life is fast-paced and varied, some days requiring her to be in front of the camera for hours on end, and others in front of a computer writing for a variety of different clients and publications. Her husband, Joe Jones (check out their ridiculously gorgeous wedding photos!), owns chic inner city watering hole Romeo Lane, and between the two of them, it can be difficult to find regularity in their hours. This means ‘working out other ways to create sanity’ outside of a consistent routine – whether that means hitting snooze a couple of extra times on a day when it doesn’t matter so much, or aligning their evening schedules.
I wish I could say that the first thing I do is get up and meditate or something, but the reality is that the first thing I do is check social media and my email on my phone. I like to go through any questions or comments have come through overnight or deal with any bookings or requests that have come in from my manager.
If it’s a writing day at home, I wake around 9.30am because my husband Joe owns a bar and gets home around 2-3am and I find it hard to sleep before he gets home. If I’m filming, my day can start as early as 4.30am to get into hair and makeup on set by 5.00am. You don’t want to see that version of me, I promise! I drink filter coffee first thing, but when I am good, I try to have a cup of hot water with lemon or a shot of apple cider vinegar before. If I am honest, I love me a snooze button and a few extra minutes with my cats and my guy.
Mornings are for coffee, work, self-care, and exercise.
I am without a doubt, NOT a morning person. But I can engineer myself to be when I need to be ‘on’, first thing, for work.
I am serious about skincare, so I take the time to take care of that part of my morning routine. Not long ago, I had a huge bout of life-shifting stress, and it gave me painful, cystic acne. So now I do what I can to take care of my skin, especially now that being camera-ready is part of the job. I love ASAP Skincare and Kora Organics because they’re Australian, not animal tested and super potent. But above all things, sunscreen of any kind, is crucial to good skin!
Because mealtimes are often work times for me, I might be testing a recipe, shooting something, or researching a restaurant for a story. If I am working from home, it depends on the workload in terms of whether I’ll eat lunch ‘al desko’. I love it when I’m working on a recipe and can stop around lunchtime, to enjoy it. When food is your life, it makes sense, doesn’t it?!
If I get out of the house and can choose somewhere nearby to go, I really like Neko Neko for healthy Japanese wholefood styles, or I might head into the city to Dodee Paidang for lava-level Thai noodle soup.
Every freelancer will also tell you that part of the job involves having a meaningful, long-term relationship with your local café. The crew at Archie’s are always smiling, welcoming and generally the best people around, so I’m there every other day for meetings, catch-ups and sometimes, the odd cheeky breakfast Mimosa.
I’m not mad that the television and MC part of my job means that I get to play dress ups. Fashion is my sport, so any chance to get dressed up, is welcome. I work a lot with local Melbourne designers like jeweler to the (rock)stars, Emma Abrahams from Heart of Bone, or queen of style, Alice Edgeley. I’m about to head into a busy season of shooting and presenting, so I can often be found at Alice’s jewel box of a studio, having a fitting, chasing her poodle Rupert around, and gossiping about who wore what at the Met Gala.
When the sun goes down, it’s my time to shine, baby! Many evenings, I have events or dinners to attend, or restaurants to research or review, which is usually one of the best parts of the job. It is never lost on me how lucky I am to get to eat, drink, travel and talk about it, and call it work.
When I do get home, I’m very much a fan of playing something like Seinfeld, Archer, The Simpsons or Brooklyn 99 in the background while I unwind. A cup of tea, a clean face and some time to hang out with my fuzzy flatmates is good for the soul and I couldn’t conceive of living without that kind of unconditional friendship.
If I’m travelling, I like to treat a hotel room like a day spa. It’s all about taking a bath, getting into a robe, donning a sheet mask and chilling the eff out. #robelife forever!
Check tomorrow’s agenda, set the alarm, one last social media scroll, then lights out!