Lauren Fried, the widow of renowned chef Jock Zonfrillo, has expressed her approval of the new MasterChef Australia lineup following the departure of Melissa Leong. The upcoming sixteenth season will feature three new judges - Poh Ling Yeow, Jean-Christophe Novelli, and Sofia Levin - joining returning host Andy Allen.
In an Instagram post, Fried stated that Zonfrillo would be "very happy" with the new lineup, which notably excludes Leong. Speculation has arisen about a potential disagreement between Zonfrillo and Leong behind the scenes.
While Fried praised Allen's return and congratulated Ling Yeow and Novelli on their roles, she failed to mention Leong's departure or her four-year tenure on the show, raising further speculation. Fried described Allen as a close friend to Zonfrillo and expressed how his presence in the MasterChef kitchen helped their family during a difficult time.
Fried's post also hinted at potential issues with Leong, as she referred to the new judges as individuals who "respect the privilege of being part of an extraordinary show" and emphasized their commitment to nurturing contestants' culinary aspirations. She concluded her message by urging fans to get to know the judges, support the contestants, and keep cooking, making the upcoming season the best yet.
The announcement of the new lineup follows rumors of tension among the judges. Leong's absence from The Sunday Project's tribute to Zonfrillo a week after his passing puzzled many viewers. However, Leong later explained that the grieving process differs for each individual and should be respected.
Leong's departure from the cooking series was announced just a day before Channel Ten unveiled its 2024 programming. She will host a MasterChef spin-off called Dessert Masters.
Jock Zonfrillo, a beloved judge on MasterChef Australia, died at the age of 46 from natural causes. He is survived by his wife Lauren and their four children. The fifteenth season of the show was scheduled to premiere on the same day as his passing.