Anticipation is building as our beloved food journalist prepares to step into the role of a judge on Masterchef in 2024. With a career spanning over a decade, Sofia has made significant contributions to both local and global food and travel publications. In 2020, she launched Seasoned Traveller, a dedicated platform unveiling lesser-known food stories. We had the opportunity to catch up with Sofia during a filming break to discuss her insights on food, Masterchef, and the journey of the seasoned traveller.

What inspired you to embark on a career in food?

Food and journalism are inextricably linked for me. I always excelled at English in school and had a penchant for prose, so I figured copywriting was my ideal university pathway. I started off in marketing and psychology, but very quickly realised that copywriting was such a minute part of marketing with few opportunities to flex any penmanship muscles.

I took time off to travel overseas halfway through my course, during which I kept an online diary. It was a joy to write as well as share, but the turning point was attempting to capture the colours, smells and intoxicating atmosphere of Morocco in words. I felt so enlivened by it; I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. I had a lightbulb moment: becoming a food and travel writer would allow this. When I returned home, I relegated marketing to my university minor and picked up journalism. I had some brilliant teachers who encouraged me to start a blog (it’s long gone now) and take internships. I forged connections, was never deterred by “no” when I pitched story ideas, and the rest – as they say – is history.

Do you have any daily rituals?

Travelling, filming and a general lack of routine means that rituals aren’t really my thing. When I get the chance to wake up without an alarm, I like to meander somewhere local for a coffee and grab a savoury pastry from To Be Frank in Collingwood. When I’m in the habit of exercising, running along the Yarra River clears my head and makes me feel energised.

What is your go to home cooked meal to impress guests?

I don’t have a go-to home-cooked meal. I tend to get lost down rabbit holes based on a particular cuisine or something I’m inspired by at the market. For example, I recently acquired some incredible homemade Korean condiments and cooked half a dozen dishes to go with them. There was so much food, I had to call up friends two hours before to help polish it off!

What are you most excited for in your new role as a Masterchef judge?

The season is yet to air and it’s already been the wildest ride! I’m excited about so many different things. One of the big reasons I took the gig is because of the people who watch the show. MasterChef fans are so enthusiastic. They care about the contestants, they’re inspired to seek out new ingredients and try recipes at home, and they understand that cooking is deeply personal. MasterChef is a competition, but it’s a nurturing one, and that comes across both in the studio and from the viewers.

I’m excited to bring curiosity to the table as a MasterChef judge. It’s such an amazing opportunity to be able to encourage people to think, grow and share through cooking and eating. As a MasterChef judge, I’m bestowed with this beautiful, two-way broadening of horizons: I get to share my knowledge with deeply passionate people (fans, contestants, chefs, colleagues), but I also get to learn from them in return.  

Where are your go to 3 places to dine in Australia?

I appreciate that you have tried to soften the blow of this question by giving me three places, but I genuinely can’t answer this. We are too spoilt for choice in Melbourne, let alone Australia. I’m going to reinterpret the question as the places I visit the most, which is based on proximity to where I spend most of my time: To Be Frank in Collingwood for baked goods; Napier Quarter for a stand-up $2 espresso at the bar before 4pm (or a DiBaldo gin martini from 4:01pm onwards); and Gerald’s Bar for simple-done-well in a room that feels like an extension of home. All of that said, my go-to approach for dining anywhere is to try something I’ve never had before somewhere under-the-radar. Hot spots are easy to find, everyone writes about them. I get a kick from going deeper, which results in tasting and learning something that I haven’t already read elsewhere.

What inspired the inception of the Seasoned Traveller website?

I started Seasoned Traveller because my favourite restaurant experiences weren’t considered newsworthy or “trending”. I would pitch local and international ideas to various editors that didn’t include big-name chefs or new concepts, and there simply wasn’t any interest. I adore the little venues that exist to feed certain pockets of people without any pretense. Sometimes the owners have ended up in the kitchen because it was the only way they could survive when arriving in Australia as new migrants, other times they’ve been passed down for a couple of generations but have gone unnoticed by mainstream media. I had always wanted to dedicate more time to these places, but it wasn’t financially sustainable for me to reject freelance writing work. Then COVID hit.

As a freelancer, I was the first to be cut. My to-do list and deadlines disappeared literally overnight. Borders closed so there was no travel. Restaurants closed so there was no dining out. I was mostly unemployed for two years. The silver lining was that I could suddenly dedicate every minute to what I call Eating Curiously, which simply means eating food beyond what one’s used to in order to learn more about others and celebrate diversity. I started the Seasoned Traveller newsletter to build an audience, and it proved to me that people out there were as excited about lesser-known restaurants as me. I spent more than a year building and populating the Seasoned Traveller website while running the newsletter in the background. Now they exist side-by-side, celebrating the unsung heroes of hospitality in Australia and making sure readers have memorable and delicious experiences abroad.