• Adam, Amina and Clarissa. (The Cook Up)Source: The Cook Up
TV chef and paediatric nurse Amina Elshafei chats about what inspired her to take her humble home-cooking to the next level, and how she is fairing in lockdown as a Mum, cook, and medical professional.
By
Mark Mariano

26 Jul 2021 - 4:35 PM  UPDATED 27 Jul 2021 - 2:53 PM

 --- The Cook Up with Adam Liaw airs weeknights on SBS Food at 7.00pm. Amina Elshafei's Lamb Ribs episode airs Monday, 26 July. Each episode will be made available after broadcast on SBS On Demand. --- 

 

In South Korea, fans show their love by giving their favourite celebrities nationwide titles. The 'Nation's Younger Sister' is singer-actress IU, the 'Nation's Boyfriend' is actor Jung Hae-In, and for our own 'Australia's Sweetheart', we have none other than chef Amina Elshafei. 

The Korean-Egyptian Arabic nurse first won our hearts on Masterchef's fourth season, and again on it's 'Back To Win' edition in 2020. Upon her latter elimination, supporters almost boycotted the series altogether.

"It's incredibly humbling. To have that support from people, especially after eight years of being out of TV. To come back and have that kind of reaction? I was really overwhelmed."

Amina almost missed the call for her first Masterchef run. After putting through a discrete application, producers got in touch - but the initial email went straight to junk mail. The team rang her the day before auditions to confirm her spot. "It was very full on," the chef reveals.

Amina spent most of her formative years watching her mother and father cook from the kitchen counter. "By the time I was in late high school, I took on a lot of the responsibility in the kitchen." Her parents, both first generation immigrants, worked full time, so she helped where she could. At this stage, cooking was explorative - but it soon grew into something more as she did. 

"Coming up to Masterchef, I loved cooking - not just for family and friends. I realised there was a driven passion for food. I thought - what can I do to take [this passion] to the next step?" Amina recalls. "I'm very glad I took that step - and hey, here I am now."

Set to appear on The Cook Up for its Lamb Rib episode, Amina compares the two shows. "It was fun - it was just really easy going at our own pace." She appreciates being able to talk about her dish and what it means to her - as opposed to only having a few seconds to mention it. Amina admits she was star struck working with Adam, despite this being their third time meeting. "He's an intellect and he is so good at explaining the food."

To the studio kitchen, she brings her Korean sticky lamb ribs with pa muchim. 

COOK AMINA'S STICKY LAMB RIBS
Korean sticky lamb ribs with pa muchim

This is inspired by beef kalbi, a marinated aromatic beef rib dish grilled on charcoals. I use elements of the kalbi marinade to which I add some Korean chili powder and paste to and applied it to the lamb ribs.

This recipe marries a beloved Middle Eastern protein with classic Korean flavours - an homage to Amina's cultural background. Elshafei thinks back on the nights eating at home, where there was mostly a clear degree of separation between Egyptian-Arabic and Korean dishes. She mentions though that her mum would stock-make banchan "so even if we had a Middle Eastern meal, occasionally kimchi would just show up on the table."

On The Cook Up, the mum-of-two opens up about how her cooking now is mostly about preserving her culture. "Korean food, in the last five or six years, has really emerged as its own cuisine outside of the umbrella of Asian food. In contrast, Egyptian food is very underrated in Australia, and it's so different to its Middle Eastern counterparts." In an earlier episode, Amina makes a traditional Egyptian dukkah. "We're [Egyptian chefs] trying to educate people around how different Egyptian food is, and to do it on mainstream television is really important."

AMINA'S DUKKAH
Egyptian peanut dukkah

The origins of dukkah are in Egypt, where peanuts are used widely. It is a staple in many households as a condiment to eat with bread and olive oil.

Amina's bangin' banchans

  • Kimchi, kimchi, kimchi
  • Stuffed gherkin kimchi 
  • Daikon (yellow radish)
  • Squid marinated in gochujang 
  • Fish cakes fried in sweet soy
  • Sigeumchi (seasoned spinach)
  • Acorn jelly/chestnut jelly 

"There's a song for every dish."

"This is really cliché, but I think when you jam up some really good tunes in the kitchen while you're cooking, it just makes it so much more fun." The chef admits she sometimes plays The Wiggles - for her kids of course. "Even if it's just as simple as cutting up some fruit, I'll throw on Fruit Salad."

"There's times where we cook to eat, and then there's times where we cook to enjoy the moment." When making pasta, she pops on some nice Italian opera. When making hefty Middle Eastern breakfasts on the weekend, she plays old classic Arabic music. "It transports me back to travelling in the Middle East."

'When you're baking the bread and doing the dough, the best thing to put on is Marvin Gaye.' 

In lockdown, Amina loves her soups and pastas. "I do like really heavy carby meals in lockdown - I don't know what it is. Maybe it's just this hibernation mode that just clicks on now that you're not going anywhere or seeing anyone and you're just in your trackies and PJ's every day," the chef jokes.

"I think the one thing that has really hit us [this lockdown] though is that we can't see our extended families. We're a very close-knit family - it's been really hard in that sense."

Nursing Sydney back to health

Amina credits any love and support for her work to being a nurse. "I always say - I think it's the nurse aspect. People have such a positive and warm association to nurses.' Her mother, who is also a nurse, originally didn't want Amina to go into the field. 'As a nurse, I like having that human interaction." she explains. "I didn't see myself working a regular office job."

Amina acknowledges the importance of frontliners, medical or other, especially in these uncertain times. "Every community needs nurses. We are indispensable. We are needed in every stage of life, from birth to death."

"To all the nurses out there, keep trooping on."

Whether it be creating another fusion dish in the kitchen or saving a life in a ward, its only greatness here on out for this Australian Sweetheart.

Amina's k-drama recs for lockdown viewing

  • Tales of the Nine-Tailed
  • My Love From The Star 
  • Let's Eat 
  • Immortal Classic 
  • Reply 1997, Reply 1994, Reply 1988 

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