Facing off competition from 63 other contestants, through seven weeks of culinary challenges and a final cook-off, Saliha was awarded the MasterChef 2017 trophy by the TV series’ judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace.
Commenting on her win, Saliha said: “To be the MasterChef champion is fantastic and wonderful. Adjectives are not sufficient. This is most definitely the coolest thing that I’ve ever done in my life!”
Saliha’s final task was to prepare a three-course meal for the judges. Her winning menu started with a Venison shami kebab with cashew and coriander green chutney, chana daal and a kachumbar salad – in memory of her grandmother’s house in Pakistan.
The main course was a Kashmiri style sous-vide duck breast with crispy duck skin and freekeh wheatgrain, spiced with dried barberries, walnuts and coriander, a cherry chutney and a duck and cherry sauce.
The final dish was a Saffron rosewater and cardamom pannacotta, served with a deconstructed baklava (inspired by her childhood love of baklava), including candied pistachios, pistachio honeycomb, filo pastry shards and kumquats.
The judges congratulated Saliha on her achievement. John said: “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.” Gregg added: “It’s East meets West and it’s stunningly good. Saliha’s flavours were always outstanding, but when she translated those flavours into modern presentation there was no stopping her. Her food is simply stunning – beautiful art on a plate.”
Saliha started cooking at a young age, influenced by her family, and also encouraged by her teacher. She explained: “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.’’
She is a junior doctor who lives in Watford with her husband Dr Usman Ahmed, and their two-year-old son, Aashir Ahmed.
On future plans, she said: “My dream is to continue working as a doctor – and also to combine it with my other passion – food. I’m specialising in gastroenterology and to be able to help patients through medicine and my food knowledge would be incredible.
“I’d love to write cookbooks in my own style, as well as healthy eating cookbooks. I’d hope to be able to help drive the country towards healthier meals – and work on national campaigns to tackle obesity, particularly in children.”