New MasterChef champion Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed says she won't be giving up her day job as a doctor to pursue her love of cooking but is instead aiming to combine the two with a view to helping to tackle the UK's obesity epidemic.
"My dream is to continue working as a doctor – and also to combine it with my other passion – food," said Saliha after picking up the trophy following a tense final on Friday night. "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.”
The 29 year old, whose culinary trademark is reconstructing and refining the classic flavours of her Pakistani and Kashmiri heritage, beat off stiff competition from DJ Steve Kielty and theatre teacher Giovanna Ryan as they each prepared a three-course meal for MasterChef judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace.
Following Saliha's win, 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. She always does something a little bit extra – something which always surprises us.”
“What an incredible cook and an incredible person," added Gregg. "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's winning menu kicked off with a venison shami kebab with cashew and coriander green chutney, chana daal and a kachumbar salad. Her main course was a Kashmiri style sous-vide duck breast, with crispy duck skin, freekeh wheatgrain spiced with dried barberries, walnuts and coriander, a cherry chutney and a duck and cherry sauce. Dessert was a saffron rosewater and cardamom pannacotta, served with a deconstructed baklava.
“Those dishes sparkled," said John. "They were clean, crisp, refined and beautiful.”
“It’s East meets West and it is stunningly good,” agreed Gregg.
After being handed the MasterChef 2017 trophy, Saliha said: “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!
"I’m a scientist, I’m not an artist, and this is pure creativity. 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!”