Amina: recipe for success

It was patience – not patients – that helped RN Amina Elshafei reach the top 12 on the television cooking show MasterChef.

Amina Elshafei is still nursing her passion for cooking, despite missing out on a top 10 spot in the MasterChef Australia competition. The humble home cook won the hearts of Australian audiences with her cheerful disposition and culinary skills in combining Mediterranean tastes with Asian flavours. Now the paediatric nurse is back at work at the Westmead Children’s Hospital, after being knocked out of the contest in a surprise double elimination.

“Since being eliminated I’ve gone back to work but in saying that, I’m probably going to be leaving, so that’s a bit sad,” Amina told The Lamp.

“I love nursing. There’s nothing, there’s not a moment I regret,” the RN explained. “I’ve enjoyed every single moment, even the bad moments and the unhappy moments, but I think that part of my life is coming to an end and I’m opening a new chapter.”

Millions of people tuned in every week to watch Amina battle it out in the MasterChef kitchens, where she cooked up a storm against hundreds of hopeful contestants to rise to her place in the top 12.

“Being on the show was fabulous,” Amina recalled. “I was just trying to live that dream of doing what you love the most and for me it was the passion of food and trying to explore that passion.”

The RN quickly became a favourite with the show’s fans through her use of cooking techniques drawn from her rich Egyptian and South Korean cultural background.

Even cooking with pork proved to be no problem for the practicing Muslim, who was not fazed in the slightest when faced with the ingredient on the show for the first time during a Mystery Box Challenge.

“I’m cooking pork because it’s a personal challenge for me,” Amina told the [MasterChef] judges during the challenge. “I’ve put it in my mind that I can’t avoid it. It’s a part of the competition.

“As a Muslim I don’t eat pork or handle any products derived from the pig. Obviously I’ve never cooked it before, but I’m just going to go by the touch and feel factor, so hopefully that will get me through.”

The 27-year-old found the challenge quite difficult, as she was unable to taste the dish and had to rely on her understanding of cooking with proteins to get through to the next round.

“I’m glad I did it because at least for me, I have some sort of satisfaction that I was able to cook it and the judges enjoyed it,” Amina said. “If anything, I learnt about a cooking approach that I’d never done before.”

The paediatric RN also drew on her nursing skills to edge her way up in the competition, consoling menopausal contestant Debra Sederlans through an emotional crisis during a Pop-up Restaurant Challenge gone wrong.

“That was funny,” Amina recalls cheerfully. “She was having a bit of a hard time and rather than fight fire with more fire, we thought it would be better to give her a little leeway and talk her through it and it worked really well.”

Amina says there was one key ingredient to her MasterChef achievements, honed from her time as a nurse. Amina chuckled as she revealed to The Lamp that the secret to her success was simply, “patience, patience, patience.

“A lot of it’s about patience, being able to be tolerant of time, being tolerant of people’s ideas and I think another thing I learnt from being on the show were time management skills,” she said.

Since being eliminated from the show, just three weeks before it ended, Amina has being exploring other options available to her within the food industry.

“The next step really is to embrace what comes my way,” Amina said. “Since the elimination there’s been some really fantastic offers and I guess it’s just a matter of seeing what I would love or what I would enjoy the most. Also I’ve got the cooking classes that I’m hosting come September.

“I want to teach people what I love to cook the most at home so that they can share the recipes with their families,” Amina told The Lamp.

The Mediterranean-inspired cooking classes, to be hosted by Amina in Neutral Bay, are a taste of what’s to come from the budding chef, who also dreams of opening a Mezze-style tea room, serving Middle Eastern cuisine, in the near future.

Amina’s grilled salmon fillets with pomegranate and parsley salad

Serves 4 Ingredients: 4 salmon fillets skin on, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp salt, 1/3 tsp cracked black pepper, ½ tsp ground cumin, 2 tbsp lemon juice, ½ tsp sumac, ½ tsp of ground garlic.

Combine all ingredients except for salmon. Mix well. Add salmon fillets and cover with dressing. Leave aside for five minutes. Heat a grill pan till hot, but not smoking. Grease the pan with olive oil. Remove salmon from the marinade, shake lightly to remove excess liquid and place skin side down in the pan. Ensure the pan is on medium to high heat so as to not burn the skin. Leave skin side down till it is crispy (3-5 minutes). Brush the fillet with marinade. Turn fillets to seal and cook a further 3 minutes then remove from the heat.

Salad ingredients: 2 tbsp pomegranate seeds, 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes, 1 cup coarsely chopped parsley, 1 tbsp finely sliced spring onion, 1 tbsp roasted slivered almonds, 1 tsp sumac, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/3 tsp salt, 1 tbsp lemon juice.

Mix sumac, olive oil, lemon juice and salt in a salad bowl, then add the rest of the salad ingredients. Serve salmon and salad on the same dish with a wedge of lemon. Can also be served with couscous or long grain rice.