MasterChef Australia has spawned a lot of stars, but none has retained more credibility than Poh Ling Yeow. The Malaysian-born, Adelaide-based painter – who finished runner-up in the first season of the show in 2009 – has quietly forged a successful post-MasterChef career in food.
Unlike some of her contemporaries, Yeow hasn’t signed on to appear in ads for paper towels or pasta sauce, or turned up on morning TV to cook a roast. In fact, one of the few times she has appeared on commercial TV was in the underwhelming MasterChef All Stars.
Instead Yeow has fronted the charming Poh’s Kitchen on ABC since 2010. Now in its third season, it hasn’t been a ratings bonanza but it has established a loyal audience.
The show is a delight. Yeow’s enthusiasm is infectious and she has introduced viewers to some of the best chefs and cooking destinations across the country.
In her latest six-part series, Poh’s Kitchen Lends a Hand, the celebrity chef willingly jumps out of her comfort zone.
Yeow isn’t the first famous foodie to use her profile for good – just look at Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay – but for an Australian program, this may be a first.
In each episode, Yeow uses food and cooking to tell the stories of a group, such as the disadvantaged young people at Melbourne social enterprise STREAT or a team of workers with disabilities in Adelaide.
The people she meets are willing to share their experiences with her on camera, and food is the catalyst for things to change or improve. The show is never exploitative, there’s no melodramatic music and everything is done with class and respect. Yeow’s people skills, it seems, are as good as her cooking skills.
Next week, Yeow roughs it for a week in remote South Australia, catering for 11 troubled teenage girls. It’s part of Operation Flinders, a wilderness therapy program for teens who have struggled with addiction and crime.
Armed with a rucksack and food supplied, Yeow treks more than 100 kilometres through the northern Flinders Ranges, sleeps under the stars and forms some genuine, not-just-for-TV bonds.
It’s truly great TV without a plug for pasta sauce in sight.
ABC1, Tuesday, 8pm Book: Fire in the Sea