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Desi food can be cool: What to learn from MasterChef’s Saliha Mahmood

Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed won the MasterChef UK 2017 title with her stellar “East meets West” menu which drew on her Pakistani heritage.

The 29-year-old doctor and mother of a two-year old son won the prestigious cooking award in a gruesome competition, defeating 64 amateur cooks with her innovative twist on traditional South Asian cuisine.

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Saliha’s win is a proud moment indeed. On the show all her dishes were based on her culture, impressing the judges with her creativity yet keeping her cultural heritage alive. Should more Pakistani chefs also take a page from her book and look inwards for inspiration too?  Mahmood’s winning meal was inspired by memories from her grandmother’s house in Pakistan – it included venison shami kebab, with cashew and coriander green chutney, chana dal and a kachumber salad as starter.

For her main course she served Kashmiri-style sous vide duck breast spiced with dried berries, cherry chutney and a duck and cherry sauce. According to one of the judges, the dish was “clean, crisp, refined and beautiful.”

Followed by a Saffron rosewater and cardamom panna cotta dessert with a deconstructed baklava.

Judges were not only impressed by her culinary skills but also with the way she had presented her food culture on the plate, giving it a modern and exciting twist.

Her success is proof that there is lots of room for creativity in South Asian food.

Saliha’s love for cooking was influenced by her family and she was also encouraged by a teacher at a young age of 15. “I’m from a big Pakistani family and we use food as a way of bringing everyone together. I had very passionate grandmothers who cooked traditional Pakistani food and my mum is also an excellent cook. We love to feed people – it runs in our genes”

Passionate about medicine and with her love for food, Saliha plans to combine both together by helping people with special dietary conditions find their ideal foods. She also plans to do cookbooks, share recipes and have her own cookery show.


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