This week, a British-Pakistani doctor made headlines after she won the popular cooking competition MasterChef UK, defeating 64 amateur cooks. Saliha Ahmed, a 29-year-old gastroenterologist, impressed the judges with her cooking, which marries traditional flavours with modern techniques.
Her winning three course menu in the finals was inspired by her Pakistani-Kashmiri heritage, and included shami kabab with coriander chutney, chana dal and kachumbar salad, which she said was inspired by the memory of her grandmother's Pakistani home. She followed it up with a Kashmiri-style sous-vide duck breast spiced with walnuts, coriander, dried barberries and a cherry sauce, as well as a saffron rosewater and cardamom panna cotta served with a deconstructed baklava.
Ahmed, who has been cooking since she was 12, has credited her family for sparking her love for food. "I'm from a big Pakistani family and we use food as a way of bringing everyone together," Ahmed told BBC. "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."
Ahmed was born to Pakistani parents, Tariq Mahmood and Amina Khatoon in the town Watford near London. Ahmed's grandparents are originally from Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir, but moved to Lahore during the Partition. She still has an extended family in Rawalpindi and Lahore.
"In our household, cooking has always been like a craze. Kashmiri families are known for celebrating what they cook and eat," she told Geo News in an interview. "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 the Shaami kabab recipe which I used for the finals."
Her expertise isn't limited to just kababs though. During the course of the competition, she also cooked kachoris and samosas, almond and milk vermicelli, as well as Banarasi cauliflower curry and cauliflower parantha.
Ahmed, who is a full-time doctor with the UK's National Health Service and has a two-year-old son, also revealed that it was her husband Usman, who encouraged her to take part in MasterChef UK, filling her application form without even telling her.
However, life after the big win hasn't been entirely smooth. Ahmed was targeted by racist trolls on Twitter, who accused her of not being versatile enough.
Ahmed has no plans of giving up her medical career as of now, and is already back at work in her hospital. Instead, she hopes it will help her publish cookbooks and work on a few TV shows. "I'd love to do cookbooks," she said. "Write as much as possible about my food and get recipes out there."