It’s been a busy few months for Samira El Khafir since finishing in the top 3 of Masterchef 2013 Season 5. The much-loved cheftestant has been working on a cookbook, is about to open a new cafe and devoting herself to charity work, including becoming ambassador of leading post natal depression charity, PANDA. It’s a cause she feels very passionate about since suffering from post natal depression herself. SHE’SAID’ chatted with Samira about her Masterchef experience, why helping women is so important to her and her plans for an exciting – and delicious – new year.
Congratulations on your Masterchef success! What have the last few months been like since coming third on Masterchef?
Thank you! It’s been so overwhelming, but more importantly I’m back home with my children and husband. I missed them so much as they are still young, and Mariam the two-year-old did not quite understand why mum was leaving, then returning for a couple hours and leaving again, that was really tough.
It has been very bizzare trying to get back to a normal life and readjust again after living in the house for nearly six months with complete strangers, making strong bonds and having to leave again and go back to the life you had. What I am still adjusting to is being stopped by so many people in the street, when I am shopping and anywhere I go, people are so lovely – wanting to talk, take photos and inviting me to their homes and businesses. I have had to send my husband on most trips as I can’t get anything done outside anymore due to the overwhelming supporters!
The great news is I am working on my new book deal that will be released in June 2014 and the opening of my new café Modern Middle Eastern Cuisine at the new Islamic Museum of Australia that opens in February 2014.
I have also accepted a role with PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Association) as an ambassador, as well as with Goodlife Health Clubs – I see these roles as very important as I can assist with a message to women that your mental and physical health are two factors in life that we must focus on.
What did you learn about yourself from appearing on the show?
I discovered that no matter how nervous one is at attempting something new, the human mind always finds a way to adapt and cope. I was so nervous at not being chosen or being critised that I very nearly didn’t enter, however I pushed myself and said it would be worse if I don’t enter and not know what could have been.
Once thrown in I adapted and really grew in confidence. Not to say it wasn’t very difficult at times, however I really grew as a person and discovered new things about myself that I never dreamt I could ever do.
Having suffered from postnatal depression, how do you now deal with issues of anxiety and the fear of failing?
I have learnt to keep a positive spin on everything I do, even if something is negative I will find the positive in it and make it a life experience. Keeping myself busy with an outlet is important – for me it’s cooking and exercise. I can not tell you how much it has benefited me mentally and physically to be working out at Goodlife Health Club and having a passion with food.
You just have to get up and make an attempt – but not to say this works for everyone. My best advice to anyone suffering from this illness is even if you are unsure, seek help. Talk to a friend, family member or even your GP as it does take a load off your shoulders to be able to express your feelings. Usually this is the toughest. Remember, you do have help out there. PANDA are great, they have a call centre ready to answer your call to assist in any way shape or form. This was the first step I took along with talking to my family, which is why I have made it a goal of mine to assist as many women as possible. If I can assist at least one person and then that person recovers and they assist another the chain reaction begins and we can fight this mental illness.
What would you like to achieve as a PANDA ambassador?
As well as the above, I am really keen to ensure migrants are also aware that help exists in this great country. It is very difficult coming from non-English speaking backgrounds as the illness is not understood or accepted in most cultures. I want to be a spokesperson for these women and say “yes it exists and we need support, don’t be afraid as you can beat it and return to a normal healthy life.”
What is the key message you would like women to take away about post and antenatal depression?
You can recover no matter how deep you are suffering. The first step is to talk to someone and most importantly, contact the PANDA helpline at 1300 726 306 or just jump online – it is confidential and they can really help.
What are you looking forward to cooking this summer?
Summer fruits are so great to work with in summer, then there is our family’s famous BBQs with spicy lamb kofta, skewered chicken with Middle Eastern spices and you can’t leave out a great tabouleh or baba ghanoush. And I’ll be working on some new flavours and recipes like my chilli mango prawn salad and watermelon with feta and mint salad.
What’s coming up for you next year?
Oh, where do I start! It’s so exciting…my new café will be open to the public in Feburary at the Islamic Museum of Australia and my new cookbook will be released around June. There are numerous appearances for PANDA and Goodlife coming up as well as charity work. I am also starting a new cooking course, Halal Cooking. Really excited and looking forward to a wonderful year.
Have you suffered from postnatal depression? Share your experience in the comments…
Julia has lived and worked in London, Amsterdam, and New York, and is obsessed with food. She's either cooking or thinking about what to eat next. Follow Julia on Twitter.