MasterChef has done something no other American primetime cooking show has ever done before: put the spotlight on a Muslim chef.
Meet Amanda Saab. She’s 26, dons the most vibrant hijabs, loves helping those in need and has some mean culinary skills that have landed her on the first eight episodes of MasterChef season six. Of the 22 contestants that appear on the show, Amanda has become a favorite for many.
The Muslim Observer sat down with Amanda to ask her sizzling questions about her culinary career, experience on MasterChef, what she has whipped up for the future, and more!
The Muslim Observer: What inspired your love of cooking?
Amanda Saab: My love for cooking came from my mother and my grandmother. Ever since I was a young child, they always invited me into the kitchen with them to help out. I have very fond memories of standing on a stool next to my mom and learning how to make banana bread and cookies and cake from when I was 4 or 5-years-old. Since I was a child and even to this day, every Saturday my grandmother hosts dinner for the entire family. Despite everyone’s super busy schedules and everything else, she really makes it a point for us to all get together…My love for food has been my family.
TMO: When you applied to get on MasterChef, did you ever think you’d get in?
AS: Every step is a process. When I applied, I was like I had nothing to lose. If they picked me, great. And if they don’t, that’s fine too. But once I did get picked, I was like, I’m gonna win this. That’s my mission. That’s my goal. I thought if they didn’t pick me, it’s their loss. If I didn’t win, that’s also their loss because I still truly believe I have what it takes to be a MasterChef. I have all the attributes and qualities to represent the brand as it should be.
TMO: How was your experience on MasterChef?
AS: My experience was incredible. I tried to savor each and every moment I had in that kitchen and I think a lot of people recognized that. They said, ‘You were always smiling. Despite all the pressure and everything else, you were always smiling in there.’ I was so excited and just so grateful for the opportunity to be there. It was the first time in my life that I was able to focus only on food and being creative … [and] to receive feedback from three culinary masterminds was definitely a highlight of my life.
TMO: How was it like being the first hijabi on the show? You were representing millions of Muslim women.
AS: I thought about it a lot. There’s definitely weight on your shoulders. You want to make sure that you’re representing Islam and fellow Muslims the best way you can. I honestly put it in God’s hands. I am who I am and I can only be responsible for me and do the best that I can with the opportunity I’ve been given. Alhamdulillah, everything’s worked out good and there was no issues or anything like that. I trust in God and God’s plan for me so if He wants me to be this representative then I’m going to do the best I can.
TMO: What are some stereotypes you think you’ve broken?
AS: I think just my presence of being on the show broke so many stereotypes including that Muslim women are oppressed, unable to pursue their passion and are somehow subordinate to their husbands.
Even between my fellow contestants they were like, ‘Okay, this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to have a conversation with a hijabi, with a Muslim,’ and they were so grateful to be able to ask me questions and I was so grateful to be able to answer those questions for them. [MasterChef] had people from all walks of life, from all different parts of the country, so just that in and of itself was so great. And you know talking to the judges and other cast and crew about Islam was incredible … People were so happy I think to know that the things they heard on the news were not true.
TMO: Has hijab ever been an obstacle in your culinary career?
AS: Absolutely not. My entire life I never felt like hijab has restricted me from doing anything. You know, a lot of people might think of Islam as a restrictive religion but that’s only if you focus on the things you can’t do. If you focus on the things you can do you’ll realize it’s not restrictive at all. And, hijab has allowed me to do so much more. I feel like I have a reminder of God everyday in my life. I make a conscious decision to put God first and with that gives me strength to do anything I want in this life.
TMO: Does faith play a role in your cooking?
AS: Absolutely. My faith helps me in everything that I do. In the MasterChef kitchen I would say a dua before we would have to cook anything. I was constantly making dua and talking to Allah. That gets me emotional because I remember even to the episode where I made the cake raw that day [and was eliminated as a result in episode eight]. I still do trust in His plans that that was supposed to happen and I was supposed to go home and that there’s wisdom in that that I’m not aware of. I wholeheartedly, despite how difficult that was, trust in God’s plan for me. That’s what carries me through and helps me continue to do things in the culinary world.
TMO: What is your favorite MasterChef episode?
AS: The first episode, just because I was able to share that moment with my husband and my and mom and my sisters, which was incredible. And, I really, really loved the Los Vegas episode because my team did sooo good and we won. It was a really fun experience.
TMO: How has life changed since MasterChef?
AS: Since MasterChef, my life has changed completely. …. I’ve been put on this platform to be a representative of Islam and Muslim women and I’ve been so amazed by the outpouring of support and the opportunities that I’ve received since being on MasterChef. [For example] being able to talk to kids about pursuing their passion and doing what they love. It’s been incredible. It’s been very busy which I’m so grateful for and I’m kind of looking forward to when things start to calm down a little bit so I can focus more on my startup company and what I actually want to do for the rest of my life. [For my startup company] I’m working on a monthly subscription box and I hope to be able to teach the world how to bake.
TMO: What’s your ultimate goal?
AS: My ultimate goal long-term is definitely to own my own restaurant. I would have a Mediterranean, modern menu. I love being able to use modern techniques and combine that with the traditional Lebanese flavors that I grew up with. That’s definitely down the line. It’s something that I’m always thinking about and working towards.
Of course, I would only serve halal. A major aspect of my restaurant [will be that] for every plate of food served in my restaurant, one will be given to someone in need. I think a lot of people take for granted the ability they have to go out to a nice dinner and are not really thinking of the less fortunate and what better way to give back then when you’re already eating and to just make it really easy, [because] one plate of food will automatically be given to someone in need.
I also definitely want to write a cookbook, that’s always been a dream of mine.
TMO: Who has been your biggest supporter?
AS: I think it’s a tie between my husband and my mom. I’m so absolutely fortunate and grateful for them. They encourage me with everything I do in my life, all my crazy ideas like going on a reality cooking show, I mean they support me 100% and are always there for me. Even when I don’t believe in myself, they believe in me and push me to do my best. And I’m so grateful for that because I know that so many people don’t have that level of support and encouragement in their everyday lives and that’s why I think I can do so many things because I have such a strong support system.
TMO: What message would you give to other aspiring chefs?
AS: I would advise them to never give up, to work really hard and just go for it. You have so much potential. We as human beings don’t recognize our own potential. Unless we get out of our comfort zone and really push ourselves, we don’t know what we’re capable of. So just go for it. Do it. Do your best. Push hard, work hard and Insha’Allah with God’s grace and mercy, you will be successful.