A Delicious Approach to Business

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In conversation

Shelina Permalloo

MasterChef winner and owner of Lakaz Maman restaurant

Winning MasterChef was a life-changing experience for celebrity chef Shelina Permalloo – and now she is determined to share her success with others through her new restaurant.

Mauritian street food has made its way to Southampton thanks to MasterChef winner Shelina Permalloo.

The long-term Southampton resident was delighted to open her first restaurant, Lakaz Maman, in the city and locals have already taken the colourful street kitchen food to their hearts.

“I am Southampton born and bred and my roots are Mauritian.

I love Southampton – I’ve always loved this city. It’s so multi-cultural and feels really rich in culture.

“So when I wanted to open my restaurant there was only one place I wanted to be. We serve street food here and at first I didn’t know if it would be accessible enough for people and if they would be willing to try new flavours.

“But the answer seems to have been a resounding yes. I’ve got ferociously hot chilli sauce in pots on the tables and we are forever having to refill them,” said Shelina, with a smile that competes with the aquamarine walls for brightness.

While the food was undoubtedly a priority for her, Shelina and her husband Rachid also had very clear ideas on how to run the business. Previously Shelina had worked in project management with a focus on equality and diversity and she wanted to bring that ethos to her kitchen.

“We were interested in bringing people back into work. We worked with the Job Centre and we have people working with us who have been out of work for a while. We have older people who have joined us and people whose first language isn’t English and we are helping them with their language skills.

“A grant from the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) helped make this a reality and now I am employing 15 people,” explained Shelina.

Winning MasterChef in 2012 changed Shelina’s life and she is keen to share her good fortune.

“I worked for 10 to 12 years in project management and when I decided to quit, I had saved up enough money to cover my rent and pay for food so I could concentrate on MasterChef.

“I knew that I wanted to cook and I learned so much doing MasterChef.

“It really is a baptism of fire, where you can literally sink or swim – it was an incredible experience.

“Winning MasterChef has allowed me to do so much including writing two books with Penguin, and has meant I could set up my first venture here in Southampton.

“John Torode and Greg Wallace (the show’s presenters) have been super supportive.

“Even now they still care – John is very paternal about what I do and Greg said straight away that I should open up a restaurant,” she said.

Coming from a relatively humble background, Shelina says this has helped herunderstand the value of money.

“My mum came here with nothing and had to learn the language. The one thing my mum always ensured was that there was a meal on the table.  She still lives in Southampton and she is helping us here in the restaurant.

“We have self-invested in this business and been involved in every detail from the look and feel of the restaurant to the logo, marketing and social media.

“The first few months were crazy but we are now in the top 10 places to eat out of 700 in Hampshire, and highly commended in the Hampshire Food Awards Best Newcomer, 2016.

“Some of my earliest memories go back to helping my mum in the kitchen. I can remember being aged three or four, my brother was at football practice and I was in the kitchen with my mum picking through lentils and rice. I can recall all the smells of the kitchen, the rolling pin my mum used, and I want to create those sort of memories in my kitchen.

“We are now looking at options to open more restaurants – we are passionate about this area and we want to bring something new to other areas,” she said.

“Since winning MasterChef I’ve had the opportunity to work at Michelin-starred restaurants such as Nahm and Benares which I chose because they fit under the umbrella of ‘World Cuisine’ which is where I now see my food being placed.

“I’ve done a few pop-up experiences, which is where a kitchen allows you to sell and serve your food to customers over a period of time to showcase your work.”

Check out Lakaz Maman menu or book a table