Shelina won BBC1’s MasterChef series in 2012, and was watched by more than six million viewers who tuned each week to see her create little master pieces, with her original use of ingredients using lots of colours, textures and Mauritian flavours; creating dishes that were refined yet unpretentious. Her winning menu consisted of octopus, mutton curry and a mango cannelloni filled with lime curd. We’re hungry just thinking about it!
We caught up with Shelina to find out what she’s been up to since winning MasterChef, and to see if she would spill any beans about her secret restaurant project.
Shelina was the first female to be crowned MasterChef winner in seven years, and judges John Torode and Greg Wallace said she had cooked some of the best meals they had ever tasted on the series. Throughout the competition Shelina remained calm and under control, especially when compared to the male finalists who regularly lost their cool and broke down in tears. When it was announced that she had won even judge John Torode shed a tear.
Shelina, who was a former Project Manager, said at the time “It was really weird to see John do that. But it was all so emotional. It’s strange; maybe because of the work I did previously, it taught me to manage stress. I applied all of the project-management skills I learned to the show.”
“If ever there was a restaurant that had to happen it is Shelina’s because her food is incredible. You can’t find it in very many places; you can’t really find it outside of Mauritius. She really does put sunshine on a plate.” – Greg Wallace
Having previously applied to be in MasterChef, it wasn’t until 2012 that she was to get her lucky break. “I had applied for MasterChef before, but this time I sat down with my best friend and I really put all my energy into the application form. I just knew I wanted to be around food and cooking it.”
When Shelina got the call from the show she was actually in hospital having been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, but even so, it turned out to be one of the best days of her life.
After being crowned the winner of MasterChef in 2012, Shelina was catapulted into the culinary world and last year brought out her first cookbook ‘Sunshine On A Plate’.
She is a regular guest chef on programmes such as This Morning and Sunday Brunch; has spent time working in Michelin starred restaurants including Benares and Nahm, and has top secret plans to open her own restaurant.
Shelina was born in Southampton to Mauritian parents and is the youngest of three children; she credits her mother with teaching her how to cook, and called here every day during the competition for advice and support. Although surprisingly, Shelina admits she would rather take her mum out to a restaurant than cook for her
“Oh, no, I can’t cook for my mum, she’s never happy with it. Mum’s the cook in our house and that’s never going to change.”
Garnering a fan club off of the back of the show she is now on a mission to put Mauritian food on the map; an area of the world that is often over looked when it comes to cuisine. Here’s what she had to say.
TRS: What work would you do if not this? When you were younger what did you want to be when you grew up?
Shelina: I always wanted to cook I just didn’t have an idea how to go about it. I loved food from a young age and always dreamt of owning a little foodie shack full of happy people eating my food.
TRS: What inspired you to enter MasterChef?
Shelina: I call it the quarter life crisis! Reaching my 30s and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I entered on a whim and never looked back.
TRS: What was the hardest thing about changing careers and what advice can you give to those wanting to make the change?
Shelina: I knew I wanted to change to a job within the food industry, so I soon gave up my job and started looking for a position in catering. The hardest thing was figuring out how to finance myself out of work; I saved enough money from my old job as a Project Manager to finance myself for about six months, then in August I got the call from MasterChef. So it was a complete leap although I had been thinking about a change for a while.
TRS: What doors has winning MasterChef opened for you?
Shelina: MasterChef gives you access to kitchens you’d never usually have access to and it also opens doors to the food industry which was an industry I’d never had any experience of before. Of course winning a TV show also means that you sometimes get recognised, which takes a bit of getting used to!
TRS: How long did it take you to write your cookbook? Do you use family recipes?
Shelina: It took me about 6 months to get my recipes together and about 6 months to test and perfect the recipes. My mum helped me remember a lot of the recipes and she was a real driver behind the book.
TRS: Can you give any budding writers out there any tips on getting published?
Shelina: Have a good concept, write about what you love (in my case food) and find a publisher that believes in you.
TRS: How often do you go back to Mauritius and what’s your favourite part?
Shelina: I go back 2-3 times a year and my favourite thing is heading to Flacq market and eating roti or dahl puri. My uncle and aunty live in Trou Deau Douce which is one of my favourite parts of the island, so I like to go there whenever I get the time.
TRS: Why do you think Mauritian food isn’t big in the UK?
Shelina: It’s a small island and I think we’ve kept our food our own little secret – I hope now after the book and MasterChef more people are open to sharing their Mauritian home cooking.
TRS: Mauritian food is amazing, especially the street food. What are your favourite Mauritian dishes?
Shelina: Dahl Puri (a type of Roti made with ground split peas), Roti Chaud, Victoria pineapple (often served pickled with chilli); Alooda (milk drink) and when you can find them – Poutou (steamed rice cakes). All Mauritian street food actually.
TRS: What is the best thing about working for yourself?
Shelina: Managing my own time is so freeing but it can also be extremely hard at times! I like to stay on top of my diary and I think having been a project manager before helps with that.
TRS: What does an average day look like for you?
Shelina: Can be anything from writing recipes, writing my new book or writing for magazines etc., recipe testing, catering for private dining, spending time with family and friends, and when I have time a spa treatment!!
TRS: What’s next for you? Do you have plans to open a restaurant? If so where would you like it to be and when can we expect it? Will it be street food or fine dining, pure Mauritian or fusion?
Shelina: Yes I definitely have plans to open my own restaurant but I can’t say much more at the moment. I promise to update as soon as I can. Watch this space.
Below is one of Shelina’s delicious recipes taken from her cookbook ‘Sunshine On A Plate’. We defy anyone not to enjoy eating it!
Shelina Permalloo Egg Rougaille Recipe
Images © Martin Poole
“Rougaille is a classic Creole sauce, which gives its name to many Mauritian dishes; it looks like a simple tomato sauce but is so much more. It has a huge depth of flavour thanks to the European herbs parsley and thyme, the heat provided by the chilli and the Indian flavourings of ginger, coriander and garlic. It’s truly divine and is my favourite sauce to prepare.
When I cook this dish I always think of my friend Krystle; we ate this dish a lot when we were at university together. With some rice and a salad, this got us through many hours of study, not to mention the occasional party!”
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2.5cm piece of fresh root ginger peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 red bird’s eye chilli, finely chopped
4 sprigs of thyme
1 x 400g tin peeled plum tomatoes
2 tbsp freshly chopped coriander
3 large eggs
freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley to garnish
Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan with a tight-fitting lid over a medium heat and fry the onion until just beginning to brown. Add the ginger, garlic, chilli and thyme and cook for 3–4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes and cook for 20–25 minutes until the tomatoes are beginning to break down and the oil has started to rise to the top of the mixture. Season with salt, add the chopped coriander and stir.
Crack the eggs into the pan, cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until the eggs are softly poached. Garnish with the parsley and serve.
Do try this dish and let us know what you think in our comments below.