I was lucky enough to meet her when she was cooking up a storm (aka mouth watering canapés) at a press launch for Darren Jenner‘s bespoke kitchens at the Sub Zero & Wolf showrooms in London. Darren’s kitchens are beyond fab and he’s really down to earth. Shelina had just won Masterchef and I had to say “hello”… as you do.
I had been shooting all day and I really wasn’t dressed to be at a launch like that. The place was filled with gorgeous ladies in very high heels, designer dresses who were sipping champagne and chatting about their £40,000 fridges. I was in my jeans having spent most of the day at a shoot on my knees arranging fake snow and a faux reindeer head! Was I put off by this? Not a jot! Having met the main man – who was so charming and down to earth I stood the other side of the island unit where Shelina was cooking up said canapés. She offered me a prawn covered in a chilli dressing. Not kosher! I had to refuse. So she said hang fire and I’ll do some more pineapple ones. Oh. My. Word! They were amazing. Sweet and hot and juicy all at the same time. I could have eaten the whole plateful- but that would have been rude! I was also hogging her attention and she was trying to concentrate. Cooking like that with all eyes on you can’t be easy!
So, I was chatting to Shelina’s agent (without actually realising it) and I said in passing to Shelina, “So you must be working on a book. When’s it out?” to which she replied “In a few months”. So it would appear fate was on my side. A few months later I arranged an interview with her and guess what? She remembered me! I was so flattered. When I say she remembered me I mean she remembered that I was the hovering vegetarian! Anyway, we chatted for ages and I’m completely her number one fan. Her book is just beautiful and her knowledge about flavours and spices is fantastic. But on to the interview…..
The Shelina Permalloo interview
How did you get into cooking and baking?
When I was really young around 3 or 4 years old I used to sit and help my mum in the kitchen. She’d give me a big wicker platter full of rice and pulses and in those days you had to sift through it to remove the stones. That was my first introduction to cooking.
My Aunt and my mum were always cooking together and I learnt almost by default. It’s only recently during my time on MasterChef that my mum reminded me that when I was twelve I wanted to own a restaurant. She and Dad said a firm ‘NO’ as they wanted a more professional career for me and I’d completely forgoten about it.
Who inspires you most in the cooking arena and why?
David Thompson. He’s a renowned Thai chef. A legend in the Thai cooking arena. He doesn’t compromise on flavours and keeps his food as authentic as possible. He stays true to the original traditional recipes.
What influences the flavours of Mauritian food?
Mauritius wasn’t occupied until 400 years ago and it was the colonization of the many different cultures that created such a diversely ethnic food. That’s why at any dinner table you can find a French stew with an Indian curry and a chinese stir fry all at once. It’s a real fusion of tastes. East meets west.
How did you come to be on Master chef?
My love of food led me to apply for Masterchef back in April 2011. I sat and filled out the on -line application with a friend. I clicked ‘send’ and then forgot about it. At the time I was a Project manager and wanted to change to a job within the food industry. I soon gave up my job and started looking for a position in catering. Then in August I got a call from MasterChef asking me to come in for a chat.
What do you do for fun?
Cook! In my teens I’d cook for friends and at Uni I was the ‘house cook’. Now I cook to entertain. I love parties and going to friends houses. I also love Zumba and just chilling out with a good book. I can get totally lost in a good cook book. At the moment I am loving Rick Stein’s India but I also love literary books too.
Where is your favorite place to go out for a meal?
It depend on my mood but I really love ‘Silk Road’ in Camberwell. It’s low key, got a great style and has very hot, crazy szechuan spices. It’s delicious.
What kitchen gadget could you not live without and why?
Microplane grater – otherwise I’d have to stand and hand chop all my ginger and garlic instead of grating it!
What’s your favorite meal?
Anything made with seafood. Octopus, prawns, lobster. One of the dishes in the book ‘Seared Lobster with lime and coriander butter’ is the one dish that springs to mind. It’s my favorite dish.
How long did the book take to write?
From start to finish it took a year. After I won MasterChef I had a few months where I had to keep it a secret so I got about 50-60 recipes done in that time. Then once the last show aired I was able to find a publisher. I was really happy to write a book for Ebury. That’s when I completed the rest of the recipes.
How do you test the recipes in Sunshine on a Plate? What’s the process?
All the recipes are tested at home first and then I got friends and family to test them. I wanted each dish to be as easy as possible to make whilst remaining authentic and not complex. Accessibility of ingredients was also a big thing for me. I didn’t want there to be any ingredients that were going to be really difficult to find. Even Sainsburys and Waitrose sell Chickpea flour, it’s just in the gluten free section rather than the baking.
What is your favorite recipe in the book?
For savory it would have to be the lobster dish. It’s a stand out party favorite. I love to cook it for friends. For dessert it would have to be the banana lattice. It’s a great way to use up bananas that are on the turn and it has that sticky toffee kind of taste whilst remaining light.
Were there any major disasters when working on the book?
There weren’t any disasters really. We shot the book in Mauritius with lots of scene setting shots of market places and local fish and lobster sellers. On the last day we planned to shoot the book jacket. The plan was to get a shot of me cooking on the shore with the sea in the background. It had been a beautiful day all day. Just as my hair and make up was finished it started to rain but not just any rain. Torrential rain. It was a total wipe out and we had to go with plan B. I still love the cover shot.
What’s next on your wish list
I’m planning on opening my own restaurant, which has always been my biggest wish. But while I am planning that I am doing lots of shows including the Good Food show as well as planning book two!
Check out Shelina’s recipe for Mango, Rum and Lime Syllabub in the next post. I only have permission to feature it for one month so don’t miss it!