Shelina Permallo won MasterChef- and the nation’s foodie hearts- with her innovative recipes, unshakeable positivity and unqualified love of mangoes

I associate food with happiness

I really do not have any negative associations with it. To me, it is not about working out what you cannot eat or feeling guilty, it is about balance. I absolutely love rice, but I would not eat a huge bowl of it- I balance it with really healthy vegetables and lean protein.. like everyone else, I decide I will be really healthy today, then I will eat a big steak. But if I am craving something, I think it is my body’s way of saying I need it. I do not count calories or avoid certain foods and I try not to abscess about my weight. It does change- especially when I am cooking and tasting rich foods, but I always eat healthily and that is my main concern. Fortunately, Mauritian food is inherently healthy; every plate has protein, either from meat or pulses, lots of vegetables and steamed rice. It you are eating good, tasty food, you do not feel like you are missing out.

Description: Shelina gave up her office job to win MasterChef 2012

Shelina gave up her office job to win MasterChef 2012

I suffer with crohn’s disease and I was actually in hospital being diagnosed with it when I got the call about MasterChef. Luckily, food does not affect it, but stress really does, so when it is all getting on top of me, I eat well and go to the gym. During MasterChef I had to be really careful because I was so anxious, I barely slept. My mum and husband were great at calming me down.

If I am sick, I make soup

My mum used to make a big pot of carrot and lentil soup with steamed rice if you were poorly, and now I do just the same. One of my favourite recipes is her Mauritian stew made with chicken and potatoes with lot of garlic, ginger and chilli. I always eat it if I need a pick- me- up.

My mum taught me to cook.

She worked by intuition, always measuring by sight and taste- not scales. One of my earliest memories is sitting in the kitchen with her when I was about three or four, sifting through rice and lentils before she cooked them. I used to love being in the kitchen with her, doing all the add jobs. Octopus- which was in my winning dish- is a very Mauritian ingredient and it really reminds me of my childhood. Mum cooked more simple dishes too, like beef in rougaille- a tomato- based spiced stew. You could smell her cooking from down the road and her take on macaroni cheese was legendary among my school friends in Southampton. I still cook in a very similar way to how my mum did when I was growing up.

Description: Sumac Salmon with Coriander Tabouleh

Sumac Salmon with Coriander Tabouleh

I never eat ready meals and even as a university student, I do not remember ever getting a take- away. Everyone would come back from lectures to our house for my homemade cakes or a big pot of stew. The other girls I lived with were Ghanaian and Nigerian, so we always had rice and chicken in the house and were forever cooking up big curries. When I was about 11 years old, one of my best friends invited me over for dinner and we half tinned curry with boil- in- the- bag rice- I was flabbergasted that you could get curry from a tin.

My food 101 is bitter melon, which Mum used to make is eat when we were growing up because it is packed with iron. It is this horrible, knobbly looking cucumber that strips every last bit of feeling from your mouth, but she persuaded us to eat it so we would not become anemic.

My family really support me, I distinctly remember my sister declaring that my profiteroles were the worst she would ever tasted, but she just saw the disappointment in my eyes and ate them anyway. I would make them in my home economics class at school and my family was always too polite to refuse when I offered up my cooking disasters!

Peas remind me of my dad as he used to put them in everything Shelina’ s dad died when she was 13]. My mum is a huge inspiration to me as a cook  but Dad made great food, too. He was really inventive; I remember coming home from school one day and he would made this tinned sardine salad with lemon, chilli and onions and it was just delicious. If he would been around for longer, I would have learned so much more from him.

I wooed my husband, andrea, with food. On our first date, I told him that I could make gnocchi from scratch. It must have worked as a chat- up line because he married me- and my gnocchi is not even that good! He is Italian and is a complete pasta fiend. He is taught me how to make a proper Italian Carbonara and a simple, classic tomato sauce.

Food has changed my life. I had never cooked professionally before taking part in MasterChef- I used to work as a diversity manager. I would love to run my own restaurant one day, but for now I am focusing on writing recipes, getting experience in top kitchens, exploring opportunities with brands and TV appearances. Changing career and going into food is something know my dad would be proud of, and cooking keeps me closer to him.

Shelina’s energy- boosting recipes

Description: Mauritian food is inherently healthy. If you are eating good, tasty food, you do not feel like you are missing out

Mauritian food is inherently healthy. If you are eating good, tasty food, you do not feel like you are missing out

The rise- and- shine smoothie

A fresh fruit smoothie for breakfast always livens me up and it only takes a minute to make. I whizz up a mango, strawberries, a banana and a orange in my food processor. There had to be a mango in there!

The energising fish dish

Spinach always makes me feel healthier, and I am sure it is the iron that puts a spring in my step. Steam it with some garlic and chilli and serve it with pan- fried red mullet. Just season the fish with salt and pepper and try it for two or three minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through.

The supercharged salad

Fennel is a tasty- and energising- base for a wholesome, earth salad. I would  serve it with tomatoes, beetroot and crumbly feta, with a dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and some fresh coriander for a bit of zing.

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