'The Ultimate Gig': Sofia Levin On Joining MasterChef Australia, The New Judges, And The Dish Everyone Should Master

On Monday, April 22 a new era of MasterChef begins with a brand-new line-up of judges.

Joining returning fave Andy Allen is MasterChef legend and alum Poh Ling-Yeow, multi-Michelin Star and award-winning chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, and food critic and journalist Sofia Levin.

Born and bred in Melbourne, Sofia worked as a journalist and reviewer for fifteen years, launching her website and newsletter Seasoned Traveller in 2020. On top of her writing, Sofia lends her expertise to hosting events, moderating panels, judging national food competitions, featuring on shows like My Market Kitchen and appearing on Melbourne's 3AW as a food reviewer.

Now, she takes on what she describes as "probably the ultimate gig in food in Australia -- if not the world".

Speaking to 10 Play ahead of the launch of Season 16 of MasterChef Australia, Sofia said, "To be part of something that is so inherently food-related... it's just so big... and when I say 'food-related' yes, it's about the cooking and eating, but I think it's also about how people connect over food."

"It's pretty incredible to be part of not just the judging panel but the entire competition and the history of the competition because it's just so deeply loved," she continued.

Surrounded by food her whole life, Sofia's love for travel and exploration exposed her to different kinds of foods and cultures, eventually leading her to a career in journalism.

"I was already a year and a half into another degree and I switched up some subjects after a trip overseas, of which the turning point was being in a night market in Marrakesh," she explained. "Just being surrounded by all the incredible sights and smells and a culture that felt, to me, so foreign but simultaneously so welcoming.

"I just wanted to be able to do that somehow every day, or some version of that," Sofia continued. Adding journalism as a second major, Sofia became a published journalist before she had even graduated, and has been freelancing ever since.

Part of Sofia's ongoing ethos, since that evening in the night market, has been to inspire readers to #EatCuriously, encouraging people to "order outside their comfort zone" to expand their culinary horizons, learning more about themselves and the global food world.

"I'm always driven by finding out about and eating the stuff that's going to feel more like an experience and, for me, that's anything that you previously haven't had before," she added.

Describing the whole filming of Season 16 as "joyous", Sofia said that each contestant brought their individual experiences of food to the table, allowing her and her fellow judges to learn from the contestants as much as they are giving them feedback and helping them.

"There is sort of a sense of collaboration in an environment as encouraging as the MasterChef kitchen," she said. "You've got people who are there to learn, you've got us who are there to help these contestants grow, and then you've got guest chefs and judges coming on board who bring another level of experience as well."

As contestants bring their dishes up for feedback, each judge has their own criteria and markers of what makes a successful dish. For Sofia, that begins right at the presentation.

"I try and think of it in restaurant review terms, so from something as simple as the body language when they're approaching, to the explanation they give of what their dish is and what it looks like," she explained.

"All those first impressions I take into account, not necessarily more than the others but I feel like Poh, Jon-Christophe, and Andy probably come at judging from more of a chef-y point of view because that's their area of expertise," Sofia continued. "I'm more diner/restaurant critic, so it's anything from the expectation that the contestant sets, to how that matches what we eat and experience, through to just how delicious it is."

At the end of the day, the dish has to taste incredible, and there's the major factor of how closely the contestant nailed the brief. Even the most delicious dish can be in danger if it doesn't fit the challenge.

"Often the best dishes are the ones where you forget where you are the second you take that mouthful, you are in pure enjoyment mode or you're whisked away somewhere else," she said.

"It sparks a memory of travel, family, or anything for you and then you're whipped back into the room behind the judging table and somebody is looking at you with puppy dog eyes waiting for your feedback. That's when you know it's really good."

As someone constantly exploring the various pockets of food and culture across the world, Sofia said there's one dish everyone should master: a good breakfast.

"You've seen it in a whole bunch of movies when a fancy chef says 'Make me an omelette' to someone they're about to hire," she said, laughing.

"Breakfast is one of those things where, first of all, you can make a really good one at home. You don't necessarily have to have it out. Secondly, you can put your own spin on it so easily. If it's an omelette, is it going to be a Japanese-style omelette? Is it an Indian-style egg dish? Are people eating it with rice? With toast?

"You can be really generous and loving and look after someone when you cook them breakfast, regardless of who they are," Sofia continued. "It's also a meal or an opportunity where you can tell people a little bit about yourself as well."

Catch Sofia and the rest of the judges as they usher in a new era of MasterChef Australia when Season 16 premieres.

MasterChef Australia premieres Monday, April 22 at 7.30pm on 10 and 10 Play