Interviews

Seasoned with a Smile: A Conversation with MasterChef Top Ten Finalist, Shelly Flash

Written by Kerri-Ann M. Smith

World renowned chef, Gordon Ramsay, has been known to build masters in the kitchen. His tough love methods have molded some of the most talented home cooks on his show, MasterChef. Season 6 brings us a smiling Jamaican single mom whose flavors remind us of home. Shelly Flash is firing up flavorful food, while flashing her contagious smile every week on Fox’s MasterChef. We are privileged to provide an insider’s point of view on what life is like in the MasterChef kitchen, through the eyes of Top 10 contestant, Shelly Flash.

What made you audition for Master Chef?

A friend of mine sent me a flyer, and said “Shelly, you’re always cooking. Why don’t you try out for this?” I have always had a love for cooking deep within, but I am not one of those people who always knew she wanted to be a chef from birth. In fact, I went to college and studied something completely different and had a full career in radio broadcasting in Orlando before I even ventured into the culinary arena. Trying out for Master Chef was a leap of faith. I’ve cooked and people have liked my dishes, so I wanted to see if others would be receptive to them too. My audition dish was a Jerk salmon, with mango pico de gallo, miso kale, and a creamy corn cake made with butter and creamy goodness. They loved it!

So who taught you how to cook?

I was raised around caterers. My aunt owns a large catering company in Jamaica and my uncle is a chef at a resort there. I was surrounded by bakers and cooks my entire life. While this was the case, they never really allowed me in the kitchen. Nobody ever took me aside and said “here’s a recipe, learn this.” There was no Bible of recipes passed on to me. I like to say I learned to cook by osmosis because while they were cooking, I would sneak into the kitchen and watch them. They were always telling me to go tek up my book. I wasn’t particularly encouraged to come into the kitchen and learn the recipes. While they didn’t pull me into the kitchen, I learned by experiencing the flavors, the textures, and the overall taste of our delicious dishes like the saltfish fritters, jerk chicken, and so on. I took all of those flavors and textures in and learned how to make them.

What is the Shelly Flash signature flavor?

Our Jamaican meals have strong flavors and those are the flavors that make me smile, so I am always going to fuse them in no matter what I make. These are the flavors I grew up with every Sunday morning and at every family function, so I want to share them with every one else. Thyme, scallion, and scotch bonnet pepper are staples in many of my dishes.

What was the first dish you ever made?

Like many West Indian children, I was encouraged to study “profitable” things because it is believed that when you come to this country, you have to have a practical job. That’s how my family was structured. Being a chef wasn’t considered a practical job. I didn’t naturally go into cooking. I simply fell in love with cooking as a teenager. My brother and I are eight years apart and one day my mother was at work and he was hungry, so he asked me to make him some fried chicken. He really wanted the fried chicken so I said okay, I’ll try. I was about 15 and I thought to myself, “how can I make this a little more special?” So I put some curry in the flour! I went on a wing and a prayer with that one and he loved it. It tasted good! So again, it’s that osmosis I mentioned. I didn’t have a recipe, I simply recalled the flavors and textures from the food I had eaten all along and I made this meal for my brother.

What’s Shelly Flash’s style when cooking?

I like to keep it simple. I did a demo on Fox for the 4th of July for a Curry Honey Mustard Chicken Wings dish. I called that “Keeping it Simple with Shelly.” I only used five ingredients to infuse flavors we are familiar with. I’m always thinking of ways to keep things simple and tasty. I am a single mother. I don’t have time to be in the kitchen all day. I’m maintaining a food blog, cooking for my family, catering personal events, and so on. So I like to keep things very simple in the kitchen.

I try to tell people when cooking, make every dish your own. My dishes aren’t always traditional. For example, when making meatloaf I put scotch bonnet, thyme, and scallion. Just keep it simple, that’s all. Recipes are a foundation or a guide, per se. They are there to give the basic method but you can make every one your own.

 

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Shelly in the “Rice Rice Baby” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Friday, July 17 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2015 FOX Broadcasting.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Shelly in the “Rice Rice Baby” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Friday, July 17 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2015 FOX Broadcasting.

What’s going through your mind in the MasterChef kitchen?

The biggest thing in my head is “all right Shelly figure this out on the fly.” What am I going to do to make this pop? How will I show myself? I’m pushing all the other thoughts out, so I can get the job done. I’m so new to this and here I’m propelled onto a major stage, so I have to give it my very best every time. Every challenge is different. In the kitchen, we have a limited amount of everything, so I have to figure out how to make things work. But when I’m cooking, I have fun. If I have fun in the kitchen and I cook with love and the food puts a smile on my face, I know I’ve done well. I’m always reinventing a dish, so if you watch me, I go into my quiet place and think, “this is fun.” The moment I get that smile, it’s good energy and I feed off it. The other day, I made a 3-rum cupcake. I really wanted tres leches cupcakes, but I switched it up and instead made what I call “Tres Rummy” cupcakes instead. I thought, “why not?’ and I tried it. That made me smile! Things with food and me are never the same. I try new things but I make sure it tastes good.

What was a bad meal that you made?

There was that episode on MasterChef when I made a meatloaf wrap. It was funny in retrospect, because I thought it was so good. I thought I was out of the box. In my head it made sense. I tried something completely unique but it was not good at all.

What Jamaican phrase motivates you?

“Out of many, one people.” I have it tattooed on my shoulder and it’s in my heart all the time. Being raised in the USA, you’re always not American enough or Jamaican enough. But there are so many people in this world, made up of so many different thoughts and ideas. Our history is so deep and so rich. No matter what setting I’m in, that phrase, the Jamaican motto, reminds me who I am no matter what anyone says.

What Jamaican product must you always have in stock?

Walkerswood Jerk seasoning. I can bathe in it. I love J. Wray and Nephew rum too, it’s always in my cabinet. Grace Kennedy has been very supportive of all of my endeavors and I use many of their products, but I can’t live without Walkerswood Jerk Seasoning and Wray and Nephew rum.

Who inspires you?

My inspiration is my daughter. She’s my beginning, my middle, and my end. She makes me better than even I think I can be. She is my biggest fan and she loves everything I make! She sees so much in me. I see the reflection of who I am growing to become in her. I’m creating a better me through her.

 

Give us a Jamaican phrase that describes Chef Gordon Ramsay.

“Rude bwoy” –That covers everything!

Jamaicans.com is home to the largest collection of Jamaican recipes. Could you share one of your signature recipes with our readers?

Sure! Here’s a recipe for a Guava Cashew Barbecue Sauce. This is also on my website if you want to print it.

Ingredients
  1. 1 tbsp Unsalted Butter
  2. 1/2 c Cashew
  3. 1/2 c Ketchup
  4. 1/4 cup Guava Paste
  5. 2 tbsp Honey
  6. 2 tbsp Walkerswood Jerk Seasoning
  7. 1 1/2 tbsp Soy Sauce
  8. 1 tbsp Rice Vinegar
Instructions
  1. Toast cashews in butter, until slightly toasted and fragrant
  2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine, allow to simmer so flavors can come together
  3. Taste and adjust as needed
Notes
  1. The cool part about this sauce is that you can tweak it to your taste. If you want it more sweet than spicy – add more honey or guava, more salt – add a little more salt or soy and to punch up  the spice level – add more jerk.  It is super versatile; use it on chicken, shrimp, steak or pork. Yum!

What’s next for you?

I am busy working on www.ShellyFlash.com. I manage a food blog, showcasing a lot of the Caribbean culture. I’m working on lots in culinary right now and that’s reflected on my website. I’m able to collectively share my growing through my website. I’m grateful for MasterChef because from that experience, many conversations have begun and many opportunities have come my way.

Any final thoughts?

I would love to share cooking and food with young Jamaicans. A lot of times, in our culture, we don’t leave the legacy of food. But food impacts the world. We aren’t teaching the next generation to carry on the legacy of cooking. Cooking is larger than the kitchen. We can teach them to create a cookbook, a blog, or even a cooking TV show. Let them see that we’re no longer in the back scrubbing pots. Kids, you can be a celebrity chef, open a non-profit, be a culinary teacher, and so many other things in the food industry. As adults, we need to let food be a product of our history. Let’s share our dishes with the next generation. This is my primary goal with this new platform I’ve been given. I want to get people talking and understanding that the Caribbean is vast and our palates are also vast. I am Jamaican first but of course it’s a unified culture that we need to share. This Jamaican girl has made Top 10 on Gordon Ramsay’s show, MasterChef! You can too!

 

Join the fun and cheer Shelly Flash along every Wednesday at 8pm on Fox (Check local listings). Follow her @shellyflash (IG and Twitter) with the hashtag #teamshelly. On Facebook: Shelly Flash.

Featured image credit: Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2015 FOX Broadcasting.

About the author

Kerri-Ann M. Smith

Dr. Kerri-Ann M. Smith is an author and educator. She is an Assistant Professor of Academic Literacy at Queensborough Community College, CUNY. She is a patois translator, a wife, and the mother of a gregarious little girl. She is a senior writer for jamaicans.com.