‘Hands Down The Most Insane Challenge’: Amina Told Us What Was Going On Behind The Sushi Train Window
Amina Elshafei has won herself a spot on the gantry at this Sunday's elimination -- but earning immunity was no walk in the park.
After Amina, Tracy and Emelia impressed the judges with their local produce Mystery Boxes the day before, the trio arrived in the Melbourne suburb of Windsor to find out what their next challenge would be.
Led by a very excited Andy into a small restaurant, there was no confusion about where they were with a mechanical sushi train in the middle of the room hard to miss.
While the trio were initially a little relieved they could cook anything under the very broad cuisine umbrella of 'Asian' they baulked when they heard they'd be creating five dishes times twenty portions -- a total of 100 sushi train plates each.
Oh, and they'd be cooking for the other contestants, who were rewarded with the treat of playing the part of 'hungry diners'.
"It was very daunting," Amina told 10 daily after her immunity win.
"It’s one thing feeding the judges but it’s also your peers too. They’re all part of the competition, they’ve also got their own expectations of the three of us as well and what we can produce -- of course it’s going to be very intimidating."
The group of discerning foodies they'd be feeding was just one element of the perfect sushi storm that would conspire to put Emelia, Amina and Tracy through the most gruelling challenge any of them have ever done -- and that's including their original seasons.
"Hands down, the worst I’ve ever done," Amina laughed. "Even compared to the challenges I went through in Season 4, this was just intense.
"I guess it was the type of challenge, who we were feeding, all those elements put together -- it just felt like we were pushed so hard to see what we could produce."
The trio were crammed into the sushi train kitchen together with a television crew, their peers and the judges sitting on the other side of the window for the full 2.5 hour cook.
"They sat there the whole time," Amina said.
"From where we were cooking, we could just hear them having a ball -- they were laughing and cackling and carrying on and the three of us were going… ‘Oh my god, we want to murder them.'"
It was a setup that we rarely see on MasterChef with contestants who aren't cooking usually standing around the kitchen acting as a cheer squad.
Instead, Tracy, Emelia and Amina knew they'd have to lift each other up and get through the challenge in one piece.
"I think the three of us just knew this challenge was insane," Amina told 10 daily. "We all obviously wanted immunity, but at the same time we all wanted to support each other because we knew how intense it was going to be.
"Rather than be competitive about it, support each other, what are you going to gain out of it from being competitive?"
The three women kept chatting, singing and giving each other pep talks throughout the cook as they kept chipping away at the gargantuan task of sending 100 dishes out on the sushi train each.
For Amina, it was a no-brainer that she put together a menu inspired by her Korean heritage, the soul food she grew up with tweaked to fit the sushi train brief.
From a quick kimchi (geotjeori) to grilled beef (bulgogi) to delicious bite-sized rice balls (jumeokbap) Amina drew on the recipes that she's gathered via her mum from childhood, and on her travels as an adult.
"A lot of the dishes put together for that challenge were mish-mashes … bits and pieces from dishes that we would have eaten growing up and put together for the sushi train.
"For example, those rice balls I made -- they’re a popular snack food in bars in Seoul and parts of Korea -- so that was from my travels.
"Kimchi, of course, I grew up eating kimchi from when I was a kid -- it’s like the bread and butter of Korean cooking."
Amina told 10 daily that she knows her mum will be proud to watch her showcase Korean cuisine on national television -- even if she might have a few suggestions.
"She’ll be very happy watching it, I know it’ll be quite sentimental for her as well because I think from her end, it’s like, ‘Okay well I’ve taught my daughter something!’”
"I think from that end, she’ll be really happy but you know, like any mother, she’s probably going to go, ‘You could have done this or that differently'.
For Amina, who has both Egyptian and Korean heritage, the recipes she shares on MasterChef are a chance to show the very distinct flavours of Korean food.
"First of all, I’m the only Korean contestant on the show but also to showcase Korean food on its own -- I mean it’s slightly bastardised on the show but to note that it’s such a distinct and individual style of Asian cooking, the flavours are very different.
"Asian flavours, as a whole, it’s not just about soy sauce and fried rice or whatever," Amina said.
She added that the understanding of Korean food has begun to evolve in Australia in the last couple of years.
"This is Korean food, different ingredients, different level, and it’s not all about Korean fried chicken, either.
"There’s more to it."