“It is incredibly humbling and empowering to be the first doctor to win MasterChef” – Meet Dr Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed

Dr Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed is a specialist registrar in hepatology and gastroenterology at the Trust. She made history as the first ever doctor to win MasterChef in 2017 and since then she has published three books: Foodology, Khazana and The Kitchen Prescription (coming 30 March 2023). Here, Saliha shares her passion for her role, cooking, and eating healthy and nutritious foods.

How long have you worked at the Trust?

I started in September 2022, however my first ever job as a junior doctor (FY1) was at St Mary’s over a decade ago. It is great to be back!

I am working as a specialist registrar in hepatology and gastroenterology, so essentially the liver, the digestive system and the bowels are my specialty. There is a huge amount of variety in the work I am doing. I run clinics alongside our consultants, including outpatient and hot patient clinics, I do endoscopy, ward rounds, and teach medical students.

What do you love most about your job?

The people. I have always been drawn to hospital environments because you work alongside the best kind of people who become more than colleagues. When you are part of a strong, well-connected team, something magical happens as these special relationships translate into everyone wanting to provide the best possible care to patients.

The Trust has recently launched a menu of budget buster meals in response to the cost-of-living crisis and to encourage people to eat more healthily. Why do you think initiatives like this are important?

I’ve recently been involved in a campaign called 24/7 NHS food which aimed to make food available for NHS staff overnight. This campaign taught me that food poverty is very real, and it affects people from all different strata of society, including our staff. I think it is brilliant that the Trust is making a conscious effort to produce healthy and nutritious food for staff on a budget. It is one of the core things we can do for staff well-being; well-fed staff will lead to a better performing workforce and boosted morale.

In 2017 you were crowned winner of the BBC’s MasterChef. How did you discover your passion for cooking?

I have always loved eating good food, which meant that I had to learn to cook good food from an early age! In South Asian culture, there is a long tradition of female cooks and historically these women haven’t been celebrated on larger scales outside of the home or given the media spotlight. I learnt to cook from my grandmothers, great aunts, aunts and my mother, who all cook so passionately and wonderfully. It was a privilege to share the knowledge they had passed onto me on national television. After I won, so many women from South Asian backgrounds reached out to express their joy that I had shared our culinary heritage.

It is incredibly humbling and empowering to be the first doctor to win MasterChef because there are food related ailments that I can relate to in a way that not many other people can.

Outside of the Trust, how has your journey as a chef evolved?

With two children and a career in gastroenterology it is very difficult to open a restaurant, so I have turned to my love of writing instead! The first book I published in 2018, Khazana, was an exploration of Indo-Persian cuisine, which is the region where I am from. I wrote my second book, Foodology, in 2021 and the tagline is, ‘a food lovers guide to finding digestive health and happiness’. This book explores the amazing organ that is the human gut and the basic scientific concept of why we enjoy what we eat and how factors such as taste, texture and smell all add to the overall foodie experience. My latest book, The Kitchen Prescription, is due to be published Thursday 30 March and features 101 recipes that we can eat to optimise our gut health and it explores the broad ranging implications of better gut health. These recipes are easy to make (in the smallest, most basic of kitchens), incredibly delicious and have the power to lower our risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, and enhance our immunity. 

I am a strong believer that the most powerful tool is the ability to cook as this gives people the confidence to experiment with different ingredients and recipes and to eat a varied and fulfilling diet. Modern technology and platforms like Instagram, TikTok and YouTube mean that we can access step-by-step recipes at our fingertips – cooking really shouldn’t be a stressful or scary process.

Read about Saliha's 2017 win on MasterChef.

Follow Saliha's on Instagram.