LONDON – Alongside two great finalists, Steve Kielty and Giovanna Ryan, a British Muslim woman of Pakistani origin, Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed, a junior doctor, won the coveted award of Masterchef UK.
Speaking of her win, Saliha said, “I feel amazing right now. I can’t actually believe that this is true. Yeah, I’m so happy that my cheekbones are hurting right now. And I think I am probably going to have to have paracetamol for smile induced fatigue.”
“I’m like a scientist. I’m not an artist. And this is pure creativity. And to be the Masterchef champion is just fantastic, wonderful, you know, adjectives are not sufficient.”
“I am not a cool person, at all. My husband and family will vouch for it. I’m highly boring, and not interesting in any way. And this is definitely the coolest thing that I have ever done in my life.”
The icing on the cake for me was when Gregg Wallace and John Torode, the co-hosts of Masterchef who after taking over the original, revitalised the show, celebrated raising two flutes of champagne, Saliha raised a glass of orange juice. This is a common practice by British Muslims who tend not to drink alcohol, but celebrate successes with their colleagues who do.
John Torode, “Saliha is a class act. She’s walked in here, taken her food culture apart and put it back together in a modern and very exciting way.”
Gregg Wallace, “It’s East meets West and it is stunningly good.”
Speaking of her win, Steve said, “If anyone really deserved to win it, she did.” While Giovanna said, “I think today, the best cook won. I’m really pleased for her.”
Saliha follows the tradition of British Muslim who have broken stereotypes and lived a normal life, contributing to and adding value to the society in which they live.
This image of an integrated British Muslim conflicts with the narrative often seen across media, and it is a refreshing reminder that while there may be some who are unpleasant in our society, there are many more who are simply living and contributing in the most positive of ways.
Saliha’s winning menu:
Starter: Venison Shami kebab, cashew and coriander green chutney, channa daal (lentils) and a achumber salad.
John: “Your venison kebab is so much softer than I thought it was going to be. It’s almost the texture of pate, but still rich with the flavor of venison. And because there is no fat running through it, it simply dissolves in your mouth. I think that green chutney is fantastic. I absolutely love it.”
Gregg: “The flavor combination there, it’s mind freshness going sweet, getting salty, going spicy, finishing hot. It’s divine.”
Main Course: Sous vide duck breast with crispy duck skin, wheat grain, spiced barberries, walnuts and coriander, a cherry chutney, and a duck and cherry sauce.
John: “I love it. Honestly, I love it. And I’ll tell you what I love about it. It is this extraordinary mixture of flavours. I’m really, really blown away by this. I think it’s delicious.”
Gregg: “It’s another, very very attractive dish. Fruit and duck is a combination we know really well, it’s as old as time. The sharp sweetness of the barberry inside the friikai, matches the sweet sharpness of the cherry. The bitterness in your sauce matches the bitterness of your skin. All surrounding that beautifully strong duck breast. That’s very very clever, that’s very very good cooking.”
Dessert: Saffron, Rose Water and Cardamon Panna Cotta with deconstructed Baklawa, including honey comb, candied pistachios, filo pastry shards, and kumquats
John: “Saliha, thought provoking.”
Gregg: “How extraordinary. I’m a real lover of puddings, and that pudding is extraordinary and extraordinarily good. I expected the panna cotta to give the sweetness, but it doesn’t. It’s flavored with saffron and a little bit of cardomom. It’s not savory, but it’s in no way sweet. The sweetness comes from the honeycomb and those nuts. Very extraordinary flavor sensations. I’m in love with that dessert. Wow. Wow.”
“I’m so chuffed that they got what I was trying to get across, what I thought would work. It’s just fantastic.”
Well done Saliha. We all look forward to seeing what you will do next!