Meet Hampton Roads’ MasterChef Ailsa Von Dobeneck

One thing Hampton Roads knows is how to eat, and eat well. MasterChef contestant and Norfolk native Ailsa Von Dobeneck agrees. “In Virginia we’re lucky because our state has some slammin’ goodies. We have a very diverse range of options. Ham… seafood… produce… strawberry picking…” and that’s where I lost Ailsa into a world of foodie talk.

Ailsa was raised in the Colonial Place neighborhood in Norfolk and that closeness to the water did her some good, especially on the competitive cooking show hosted and judged by famously direct food critics and chefs, including Gordon Ramsay. This week she’ll face a crab challenge, but Ailsa isn’t worried. “Growing up on the water I am very familiar with all sorts of creatures of the sea,” said Von Doberneck. “I am not squirrely about working with any kind of seafood. I’m used to dealing with squirminess.”

She turned that love of squirmy sea goodies into a real passion for cooking. Her blog, The Curious Taste Bud, is just a small glimpse into Ailsa’s love of the culinary arts. When I asked her for a recipe for her fans and neighbors here in seafood-loving Hampton Roads, she said, “I think this Sri Lankan Shrimp Curry is perfect! It is light and a little spicy.”

Sri Lankan Prawn Curry with Coconut Rice
Cuisine: Seafood
Author: Ailsa Von Dobeneck
Serves: 4
MasterChef contestant and Hampton Roads native Ailsa Von Dobeneck shares her recipe for Sri Lankan Prawn Curry with Coconut Rice
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • 6 curry leaves
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 green chillis, chopped
  • ½ cinnamon stick
  • 200 ml/7 fl oz coconut milk
  • 100ml/3.5 fl oz crushed tomato
  • 450g/16fl oz raw, peeled shrimp/prawns
  • 8 okra (lady fingers), sliced
  • Coriander (cilantro) and lime wedges, to dress
  1. Toast the fenugreek, mustard, coriander and fennel seeds in k a dry frying pan over a low heat until they release their aroma. Tip them into a mortar and roughly grind with a pestle.
  2. Place the ground spices and all the remaining ingredients (including okra) except for the shrimp into a large saucepan. Pour in 200 ml/7 fl oz coconut milk and 100ml/3.5 fl oz crushed tomatoes and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 10 minutes then season.
  3. Add the shrimp and simmer for another 5 min until they are just cooked through. Dress with coriander (cilantro) and lime
  4. Coconut Rice:
  5. The easiest way to make coconut rice is to boil jasmine rice with water, combined with coconut water (half and half). Rinse rice in cold water before you start and fluff when finished.

Although she lives in the D.C. area now, Ailsa returns home to Hampton Roads often and enjoys the tastes of the town while she’s here. She especially loves the emerging craft beer scene, giving a nod to her post-collegiate home in Ghent. “I was excited when O’Connors and Smartmouth opened… I am all about trying all kinds of different beers. People are getting so creative about trying their beer and that makes for exciting food choices.”

If you want to cheer on Ailsa on MasterChef (and see her take on a crab challenge like a true Hampton Roads native!) turn it to Fox 43 at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

Good luck Ailsa!