Interview: MasterChef The Professionals Burhan Ahmed
My goal is to have the first British-Bangladeshi fine dining restaurant with a Michelin star!
Burhan Ahmed became the first contestant of Bangladeshi heritage to compete on the BBC’s coveted cooking show MasterChef: The Professionals last week.
During two pulsating episodes, the young 23-year-old served a number of outstanding dishes that drew praise from judges Marcus Wareing, Monica Galetti and Gregg Wallace.
Although Burhan missed out on making the semi-finals, we caught up with the chef, who goes by the nickname ‘Bunsen’, to find out more about him and his ambition of one day launching the “first British-Bangladeshi fine dining restaurant with a Michelin star”.
FtLion: Talk us through how rigorous the MasterChef selection process was, including some of the dishes you showcased?
The selection process took 1-2 months in total. It included multiple interviews over FaceTime (as we were in first lockdown). I had to submit a 5 course tasting menu that’s seasonal and showed my style as a chef.
My favourite and most successful dish showcased was a dark chocolate set ganache, with chocolate soil, torched pineapple, salted caramel hazelnut sauce and a raspberry tuile. It was decadent, not overly sweet, and great texture.
FtLion: You walked into MasterChef looking relaxed and confident. But can you describe how intense the pressure was cooking for two renowned chefs in a TV studio?
The pressure of the MasterChef kitchen is one I’ve never experienced! It’s like being in a pressure cooker and you know it’s life or death with how well you cook. Not only that, but you’re up against other outstanding chefs from around the UK, so you can’t slip up.
FtLion: You graduated in a professional cookery course taken at Coventry College. How did that prepare you for life in a professional kitchen?
If I didn’t take the professional cookery course and achieve my level-3 diploma, then I wouldn’t be on the show, as that’s one of the requirements.
Taking the course taught me basic and classical cookery techniques, with skills which are the foundation to preparing any dish.
FtLion: What advice would you give budding young cooks looking to be a professional chef? Aside from the type of course you took, what other avenues might you suggest?
The one and only piece of advice I’d give is: watch lots of cooking videos on food you’re interested in; watch videos on chefs you’re interested in and chefs that are at the top of their game.
Also you need to have passion or you won’t last in catering.
FtLion: Given your ethnic background, in what way has the rich heritage of Bangladeshi cuisine impacted your cooking style and vision?
Having Bangladeshi heritage has blessed me in a way where it’s appropriate for me to do both British and Asian cooking. As I’m British born with Asian heritage, I have an understanding of two cultures whose food style and use of ingredients are completely opposite. This, therefore, allows me the freedom to fuse techniques and flavours from both into one.
FtLion: Your ambition is to be the first chef to win a Michelin star for a Bangladeshi restaurant. In what way will you incorporate Bangladeshi cuisine into the creation of dishes necessary for achieving this goal?
My goal is to have the first British-Bangladeshi fine dining restaurant with a Michelin star! I want to encorporate strictly traditional Bengali recipes and food, with modern techniques and presentation.
I’m interested in Bengali street food, and hope to showcase this in a more modern influenced way, but without taking away core flavours or compromising on the actual look of the dish.
FtLion: Some people often tend to see Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine as synonymous. So tell us, in what way will your fine dining Bangladeshi restaurant differ from its Indian counterpart?
The way in which I will ensure that Bengali cuisine remains distinct is by using only Bengali recipes; and there’s famous dishes from Bangladesh which aren’t famous in India.
I will be using traditional recipes native to Bangladesh in order to call myself a modern British-Bangladeshi restaurant.
FtLion: As a British Muslim who adheres to a Halal diet, have you encountered or do you anticipate encountering any conflicts of interest between your ethnic background and religious beliefs, and your progress as a chef in the world of fine dining?
Although I do not consume either, as a non-practising Muslim, I’ve never been strict on the use of alcohol in the cooking of my food or the handling of pork.
In most non-Halal restaurants, pork and alcohol is normal life. However, moving forward, if I have my own restaurant, it will strictly be Halal and non-alcoholic so that Muslims of all backgrounds can feel comfortable to eat.
There is currently no Halal fine dining restaurant in the Midlands which is also non-alcoholic; so there’s a market for it!
FtLion: Who’s been your greatest cooking inspiration, and in what way has that person influenced you towards your profession as a chef?
The biggest influence in my cooking career has been Raymond Blanc. In the beginning of my career, I wasn’t very passionate about food; but, watching him put a real fire in my belly, and his enthusiasm gave me a lot of passion.
FtLion: What are your short- and long-term goals as you work towards opening your own restaurant?
My short term goal currently is to look for a location to open my first restaurant.
My long term (10 year) goal would be to have multiple restaurants, all of which are Halal and non-alcoholic, while creating a new genre of fine dining that’s modern Asian-Bangladeshi and sub-continental inspired.
Keep up to date with Burhan Ahmed’s culinary adventures by following him via his increasingly popular Instagram account @bunsenburhan.