Pakistani-Kashmiri recipes win MasterChef for Saliha Ahmed

“It’s been a long journey, I always wanted to go on this show but I thought I can’t make it because I didn’t have time due to my full-time job as a doctor with the National Health Service (NHS).

“Then around two years ago, we were blessed with a baby boy and I became very busy but Usman filled my application form without even consulting and encouraged me to take part in the competition. He saw talent in me and believed in me.”

Saliha was born in Watford to Pakistani parents Tariq Mahmood and Amina Khatoon, both doctors with the NHS. Her grandparents originate from Srinagar but moved and settled in Lahore at the time of partition — and that explains why Saliha’s show-stopping finale dish was inspired by Kashmiri and Pakistani food.

Saliha, a fluent Urdu speaker, explained how she went through a gruelling experience over several months to make it to the final.

The run-up involved working on the weekends, sacrificing annual leave for many months for filming and going to restaurants and cooking almost everyday after work to ensure that she is cooking new dishes and doing the right thing.

“I couldn’t have reached here without putting in a lot of hard work. After I was crowned the MasterChef 2017 champion, I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback — so many people from Pakistan contacted me to congratulate and to give positive feedback. It’s impossible to describe in words the happiness I have felt. I must say Allah has been kind to me,” she said.

Saliha’s extended family lives in Lahore and Rawalpindi. “In our household, cooking has always been like a craze. Kashmiri families are known for celebrating what they cook and eat. My parents are Kashmiris and my mother-in-law is also a Kashmiri and she is a brilliant cook, in fact she is the one who taught me how to cook Shaami kebab, the recipe for which I used for the finals.”

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