Battle of the cooks: MasterChef contestant judges local competition


The aroma of delicious food pervaded the hall as 30 girls from six schools and colleges battled it out in a 90-minute cooking competition at the Lahore College for Women University on Wednesday.

Popular TV show MasterChef Australia’s contestant Amina Elshafei was one of the judges.

The event was organised by the Australian Aid (AA) in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP) as part of an awareness drive regarding nutrition and healthy eating. Elshafei is part of the initiative. She will stay in Pakistan for a week and visit Faisalabad and Islamabad as well.

Students from Kinnaird College, LCWU, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Beaconhouse School System and College of Tourism and Hotel Management took part in the competition. The contestants were told to prepare a low-budget nutritious meal that incorporated grains, vegetables, fruits, proteins and milk, and could feed a family of four (two adults and two children aged one to five years).

Elshafei spent a hot and humid afternoon judging the contestants’ dishes as she walked through their cooking stations. The students had experimented with local and foreign cuisine.

Wardah Nisar who studies at the UVAS told The Express Tribune that the competition had been a thrilling experience. A nutritionist in the making, Nisar said that she had looked forward to talking to Elshafei. “She was so much fun and easy to talk to,” said Nisar, “I learned a lot from her.”

Nisar’s team had prepared baingan ka bhurta (brinjal), raita, cutlets and roti. “I wanted Elshafei to taste our traditional food and spices,” said Nisar, “Needless to say, she loved it!”

Mahnoor Shahid, an A-level student from Beaconhouse School System, said that her team had prepared herb rice, chicken karahi and zesty fruit cream. “We got really excited when we saw Elshafei walk up to our station,” she said.

The competition began at 11am and continued late into the afternoon. LCWU Vice Chancellor Sabiha Mansoor said it was only fitting that the event had been held in Lahore- Pakistan’s centre of culture and food.

LCWU Faculty Development and Internationalisation Director Saima Asghar Riaz said that the university had introduced an active citizens’ programme in collaboration with the British Council. The Model Primary Schools programme at the LCWU would teach 50 children in two shifts (morning and evening), she said, the children would be given milk packs daily.

“Australia and Pakistan share a passion for food,” said Australian Trade Commissioner Nicola Watkinson, “We look forward to providing support to farming systems in Pakistan to improve their productivity.”

Elshafei said, “I am here to raise awareness about food and nutrition. The idea is to come up with creative solutions to convert simple ingredients into nutritious meals.” Her visit to Pakistan had been fabulous and exciting so far, she said, though the local spices had provided a bit of a challenge for her, the judges at the competition had helped her identify the various tastes.

The team from Kinnaird College won the competition and were given prizes. Elshafei will prepare local cuisine at a restaurant today (Thursday) as part of the WFP and the AA’s initiative.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2013.