'Class act' Saliha clinches MasterChef title

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Doctor Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed has proved 13 is lucky for some after clinching the MasterChef title.

The 29-year-old from Watford became the 13th amateur cook to be named champion in Friday night's show after beating off competition from Steve Kielty and Giovanna Ryan.

She joked the win had left her smiling so much her cheekbones were hurting, telling the Press Association: "It is the most wonderful feeling.

"A shock, a surprise, I'm happy, excited...if you've got an adjectives dictionary then I could fill it with all the positives. It's great, absolutely great.

"Watching back brings back all those memories. It's a very emotive thing cooking the food you've designed when you love to cook and love to please people with your food."

After seven gruelling weeks of culinary challenges ended in an exhilarating final cook-off, Mahmood-Ahmed's winning meal, including a starter inspired by her grandmother's house in Pakistan, was awarded the trophy by judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace,

The junior doctor and mum-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 competition.

During the final week she has had to cook for the American Ambassador to the UK, embark on a culinary mission to South Africa, and impress one of Britain's most creative chefs - the two-Michelin starred Sat Bains.

She dedicated the win to her colleagues and her family.

"I have a lot of support from my wonderful husband and family, who gave me the strength and encouragement to go through this incredible experience.

"I have great work colleagues, who swapped on-call shifts with me so I could attend the filming days. I feel like winning MasterChef was a team effort for us.

"It involved a lot of hard work and early starts - late nights cooking after 13-hour-long shifts, no holidays, no breaks, no sleep - but it was well worth it!"

Friday night's show saw Mahmood-Ahmed, Kielty and Ryan prepare a three-course meal for Torode and Wallace.

Her winning starter was a Venison shami kebab with cashew and coriander green chutney, chana daal and a kachumbar salad. It was followed by a Kashmiri-style sous vide duck breast, with crispy duck skin, freekeh wheatgrain, spiced with barberries, walnuts and coriander, a cherry chutney and a duck and cherry sauce.

And the champion dessert was a Saffron rosewater and cardamom pannacotta, served with deconstructed baklava, including candied pistachios, pistachio honeycomb, filo pastry shards and kumquats.

The victor began cooking at a young age, influenced by her family and with the encouragement of a teacher.

The Middlesex-born doctor said she would love to continue with her medical career - in which she is specialising in Gastroenterology - but also dreams of writing cookbooks and tackling obesity.

Torode 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."

On her winning menu, he said: "Those dishes sparkled. They were clean, crisp, refined and beautiful."

Wallace added: "It's East meets West and it is stunningly good."