A British Pakistani doctor who has been crowned MasterChef champion for 2017 after besting 64 amateur cooks has credited her family for supporting her hobby of cooking -- starting with Pakistani and Kashmiri dishes.
Saliha Ahmed, 29, triumphed in the final of MasterChef after defeating two rivals and made headlines around the world for impressing the judges with her Pakistani-Kashmiri-inspired three-course meal, The News International reported.
A record six million viewers watched Saliha storm to victory over music teacher Giovanna Ryan and DJ Steve Kielty who are considered amongst the top chefs.
In an interview with Geo News, Saliha credited her family with her cooking skills and reserved special thanks to her doctor husband Usman Ahmed for pushing her to take part in the coveted competition.
"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."