What's the recipe for Masterchef success? A dash of midlife crisis and a lifelong passion for food, if you're Shelina Permalloo. In 2011 she left her job as a project manager, hit "send" on her Masterchef application, and promptly forgot about it. She didn't know it at the time, but she had taken the first step on a journey that would include winning the show, opening her own restaurant, Lakaz Maman, and a whole new food-inspired chapter of her life.
"Masterchef was the most terrifying, but the best experience of my life!"
Why apply to Masterchef? "I never actually thought my application would get read, let alone that I would hear back. They invited me in to taste my food, and suddenly I was in the competition! I applied because I knew deep down I wanted to work in food, but I just had no idea how – so I decided to do something crazy like Masterchef! It was the most terrifying, but the best experience of my life!" That desire to work in food was evident even when Shelina was young, "My first food memory is sitting in the kitchen with mum as she would cook the evening meal she'd always give me little jobs. Back then lentils and rice were not washed so I'd have to pick through the rice and lentils to remove debris and stones." Being International Women's Day, we ask if Shelina had a strong, female role model in her life? "Yes. My mum, for sure. Is there a dish her mum makes that still leaves her in awe? "Everything! She always has a few tricks up her sleeve! If I had to choose one, her 'la daube poulet' is an example. It's an French inspired stew with potatoes thyme garlic and tomatoes and she adds kidneys beans too. It always comes out perfect when she cooks it, every time."
"Whenever there was a party or something, the key concern is what we would all be cooking!"
It's clear from the way Shelina talks about food that family values informed her relationship with food. "Mauritian families are very social and food centric, so we would talk often about food. Whenever there was a party or something, the key concern is what we would all be cooking!" You can take some insight into Shelina's cooking from the dishes that stand out in her memory. "It's always the simple dishes that I crave from my mum, and no matter how much I try they never quite taste as good as hers." Is there a dish on her menu that is inspired by that foodie family history? "I would say the gateaux piment, a street food snack made with yellow split peas – similar to a dal pakora. This is one thing my mum always cooks at parties, or whenever we have guests. I could never resist a hot gateaux piment stuffed into a warm baguette and drizzled in chutney!"
"We give as good as we get in the kitchen!"
From that family-friendly fare, it must have been a baptism of fire to step into the Masterchef kitchen, but she came through with flying colours. "I'm most proud of the dishes I did on Masterchef, because I pushed myself so hard. It was the final three dishes that won me the title and they were all inspired by my love of Mauritian food: A classic Salade Orite with a twist (octopus salad), a celebration dish of biryani and mutton curry, and my dessert was a medley of the tropics – mango cannelloni, white chocolate pistachio samosa and coconut blancmange." Having gained some real experience in the culinary world, does Shelina think female chefs have a different experience to their male counterparts? "Yes, but only because traditionally there weren't as many of us. Now, and for many years, there have been lots of excellent female chefs who are recognised for their brilliant contribution to the industry. Women know how to multi-task really well, but we also know how to give as good as we get in the kitchen!"
"Do what you love, and focus on mastering that first."
So, for an aspiring chef desperate to have a restaurant of their own one day, a word of advice? "Be yourself. Don't change your food style to fit into the trends. Do what you love, and focus on mastering that first." Spoken like a true artist. Finally, if she weren't a chef, what would Shelina be doing for a living? No massive surprises on this one – "I'd be a food critic so I could eat all day!"
And if you want to eat all day, head over to Deliveroo, we've got you covered.