Tala Bashmi has been named as the best female chef in the region.
The Fusions by Tala chef-patron, often referred to as the voice of modern Bahraini cuisine, is the winner of the first Middle East & North Africa’s Best Female Chef Award.
Bashmi inherited an interest in cuisine and cultural identity from her father through his in-depth knowledge of the ingredients used. She then used this interest to launch Baked by T, before joining the Culinary Arts Academy in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Staying in the central European country, she had roles at the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel and Michelin-starred restaurant Prisma in Vitznau, where she learnt more about restaurant operations, as well as working in fast-paced kitchen environments.
Since returning to the Mena region, Bashmi has competed on MBC's Top Chef Middle East television show, where she reached the finals. In 2017, she took over the helm at Fusions by Tala, at the Gulf Hotel Bahrain, where she makes modern interpretations of Bahraini dishes.
Since the February 2020 relaunch, one of the menu's standout dishes is bamia, a traditional okra and meat stew, which she has modernised using wagyu beef cheek, crispy okra glass and tomato broth rice.
Speaking about her time on Top Chef Middle East, she told The National in February 2020 that she had "learnt so much from the experience".
"One thing I've really learnt is that, in the kitchen, every single second counts," Bashmi said. "There's so much pressure during those challenges to get things done while everyone is watching and the cameras are on. I've definitely learnt a lot about time management.
"I try to appeal to every audience from every country, in a sense of bringing them back to a state of nostalgia," she said of her approach to modernising regional cuisine. Bashmi might do this through any of our senses, such as when she adds a campfire aroma to the Saudi-Bahraini dessert aseeda to evoke memories of camping, whether in the desert or the forest.
While her influences do come from her ancestry, she also looks to world-renowned chefs, such as Grant Achatz and Heston Blumenthal, for inspiration. That's what makes Bashmi so different from her contemporaries in the region.
"I don't really know of anyone else who is doing anything like this in the Arab world right now," she said.