A junior doctor of Pakistani origin has won the BBC’s Masterchef title, with a menu of “East meets West” dishes inspired by her heritage.
Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed, 29, from Watford, beat off fellow-competitors Giovanna Ryan and Steve Kielty.
Saliha impressed judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace as a “class act”.
She said she wanted to combine her love of cooking with her medical career, by helping people with special dietary conditions find their ideal foods.
The junior doctor and mother-of-one, who battled from 64 amateur cooks to take the prize, swapped on-call shifts with colleagues to ensure she could take part in the contest fighting her way through seven weeks of grueling culinary challenges to take the top prize
Drawing on her Pakistani heritage, Mahmood-Ahmed had impressed throughout the competition with her innovative splicings of traditional and fusion-inspired cuisine.
The challenge was to prepare a starter-to-pudding banquet in 180 minutes. Staring the task squarely, Saliha served up a Venison shami kebab starter, Kashmiri style sous-vide duck breast main and Saffron rosewater and cardamom pannacotta.
“Saliha is a class act. She’s walked in here and taken her food culture apart and put it back together in a modern and very exciting way. She always does something a little bit extra – something which always surprises us,” said Torode, having proclaimed her effort all but faultless.
“I feel amazing right now, I can’t actually believe that this is true. I’m so happy that my cheekbones are hurting and I’m probably going to have a paracetamol for smile-induced fatigue,” said happy gastroenterologist Saliha, a keen cook since age 12 who has expressed the hope MasterChef will help her fulfil her dream of becoming a food writer.
MasterChef champions frequently go on to greater things in the culinary world. The 2011 title-holder Tim Anderson opened a Japanese soul food restaurant in London 2015 while 2013 finalist Larkin Cen runs an acclaimed casual diner in Bristol. Whether the latest victor will join them at the top table remains to be seen. For now, she seems delighted simply to have the prestigious winner’s gong in her humble clutches.