Bahrain's Tala Bashmi on being the only Arab on Madrid's The Best Chef Awards list

Fusions by Tala head ranks alongside Massimo Bottura, Heston Blumenthal and Anne-Sophie Pic

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Tala Bashmi is in good company.

Massimo Bottura, Niko Romito, Yannick Alleno, Heston Blumenthal, Clare Smyth and Anne-Sophie Pic are the big culinary names she's ranked alongside on the top 100 list for this year's The Best Chef Awards.

The Bahraini chef, who last year won the first Middle East & North Africa's Best Female Chef Award, was at the awards ceremony in Madrid earlier this week.

"The people on this list are actual living legends in the culinary field, so for me to be on it at all is amazing," she tells The National.

"What I’m currently doing is trying to put Middle Eastern cuisine on a global scale, so for me to be the only Arab on this list means I’m taking one step forward to doing that and to give our cuisine its moment in the spotlight and its culinary renaissance."

Not only is Bashmi the only Arab, she's also one of only 18 women who have made it on to this list of 100 culinary talents across the globe.

She ranked 93rd, but says the number didn't "really matter" to her. "Going into this, I had no idea if I was going to make this list," she says. "I'm from a small island that doesn’t get much exposure, so for me to get this is amazing."

At the event, which was held at the Crystal Gallery of the Palacio de Cibeles, in Spain's capital, she met some of her all-time heroes. This includes Andoni Luis Aduriz, a Spanish chef who ranked number five and picked up the award for The Best Science Chef Award. Bashmi describes him as "humble, down to earth and very focused on what matters in this industry rather than distractions around, which I really admire".

Spain's Dabiz Munoz picked up the top accolade of The Best Chef for a second consecutive year for his work at DiverXO restaurant in Madrid. Noma's Rene Redzepi came second, while Spain's Joan Roca i Fontane rounded out the top three.

Bashmi, who heads The Gulf Hotel Bahrain's well-regarded restaurant Fusions by Tala, is no stranger to culinary accolades, having picked up her award for Best Female Chef in the region in Abu Dhabi this February. Her restaurant also ranked 39th on the first list of Mena's 50 Best Restaurants.

She 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 the 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 in 2020, where she reached the finals.

In 2017, she took over the helm at Fusions by Tala, where she makes modern interpretations of Bahraini dishes, including the standout bamia, a traditional okra and meat stew, for which she uses Wagyu beef cheek, crispy okra glass and tomato broth rice.

"I try to appeal to every audience from every country, in a sense of bringing them back to a state of nostalgia," she has previously said of her approach. 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.

"I feel like this is still the beginning for me," she says of her latest achievement. "People haven’t seen what came before, what led to today, so every time something is achieved, it’s a new beginning and opens new doors to opportunities I hadn't even thought of.

"There’s so much more I want to achieve."

Scroll through the gallery below to see the full list of Mena's 50 Best Restaurants

Updated: September 25, 2022, 1:10 PM