“My father often took me to markets and showed me the strangest foods,” recalls the likeable restaurateur, who often baffled school friends with some of her food preferences when she was younger. Today, she runs her own restaurant where she does exactly that: rediscover and celebrate traditional dishes and spices. “My goal is to share my culture and cuisine with people who may never have tasted the flavors I grew up with,” says the young woman, who was named the best head chef in the Middle East and North Africa in 2022 and made it into the ranks of the 50 best restaurants in this huge region with Fusions by Tala.
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Everything started with a restaurant challenge
It all started with a challenge. Located high above Bahrain’s skyline in the Gulf Hotel, Fusions, the restaurant where Tala Bashmi did her training, had been around for a while, but its success left much to be desired. “I was given the restaurant for a year, and told that if it did noticeably better, they would renovate and rename it Fusions by Tala,'” says the dedicated chef, who previously enjoyed success with an online bakery and holds a master’s degree from the Culinarium Arts Academy Switzerland. She initially aspired to be a professional football player and even played on the national team for seven years. But then an injury and her realism put a stop to that plan and her love of her country’s cuisine took over.
Tala Bashmi: Straight into the finals on a big cooking show
After a year of hard work, Tala Bashmi and her team had increased profits more than tenfold. As promised, the restaurant was indeed modernized and from then on bore her name. No wonder that the successful chef hesitated when she was invited to the renowned Top Chef cooking show. She didn’t think much of cooking on TV and didn’t have the time anyway. But she went on the show because somehow it was the perfect moment after all, and became famous in one fell swoop by making it to the finals.
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Climbing the culinary sky with traditional Oriental dishes
Her secret to success is also her unique selling point. “Every day I cook in an effort to raise Bahrain’s and the entire Gulf region’s cuisine to world-class levels. We are among the first to offer this and I think it makes us special,” explains Tala Bashmi, who still likes to browse markets for special delicacies. “Focusing on regional and seasonal food is the core of my cooking philosophy,” she stresses.
Self-confident chef: I can’t please everyone!
And this is done with relish and enjoyment at Fusions. Tala Bashmi surprises with creations such as vine leaf risotto with coconut-lime leaf sauce and roasted vegetables or chicken with freekah, an oriental wheat dish, along with a special wild bee honey variety (kombu honey) and sour barberry berries. But you can also find tenderloin and angus steak on the menu. The signature dish Bamia is a particularly artistic take on a simple traditional dish. As Tala Bashmi tells it, “Bamia is actually a stew of meat cuts and okra, which is cooked for hours until the meat is very tender. But I use Wagyu beef cheeks and Okra is served as a crispy ‘glass’ over the entire piece of meat. I also serve tomato rice.”
She’s definitely brave about the traditions she loves, but the confident chef knows that she can’t please everyone, nor does she want to. “When my father tried it for the first time, he asked, ‘Where is the okra? This bit of paper, is it?'” recalls Tala Bashmi with a laugh.
Tala Bashmi has made it into top gastronomy as a woman – with her own methods
The young woman follows her path convincingly and persuasively. However, the fact that she is a successful female chef in Bahrain doesn’t seem worth mentioning to her. “I think that all over the world it’s difficult to be a chef,” says Tala Bashmi. “Sure, if you’re a woman, there may be a couple of extra hurdles and challenges, but the more we emphasize that someone is a female chef, the more it will remain a challenge,” she says. “The more we talk about it, the more power it gets.” What advice does she give women who are pursuing a career in gastronomy? “Work hard, never stop learning and be aware that it will take time and nobody is an overnight success.” She also advises men to do the same, she says.