She volunteers at a hunger relief agency, works at a hospital, and — oh, yeah, is competing on the world’s largest cooking competition reality show. The Dearborn, MI native uses her Arab background to inspire her culinary feats, while doubling as a social worker focused on women and children. Now, her participation in this season’s MasterChef series makes Amanda Saab the first headscarf-wearing chef on American primetime television.
Here, Amanda gives MuslimGirl an exclusive interview on her incredible accomplishments.
Who is Amanda Saab?
A Muslim, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a social worker, a chef, and a citizen of the world!
Realizing cooking as a passion
I have always loved to cook and bake. I remember baking chocolate chip cookies with my mother when I was three years old. As I grew older, I was designated to bring desserts to family gatherings. On Thanksgiving, I would make at least 10 pies. After I began my career in social work, I needed an outlet; a way to process the traumas and grief that I had witnessed. I would come home to prepare dinner and would feel better. I soon realized that cooking was my way to process my day, my creative outlet, my “me time.” I was also creating delicious things for my husband, Hussein. I would post pictures of our dinners on Instagram and found so much support! Many asked for my recipes. It took me a while to get it started, but, thanks to all those who encouraged me, I started my blog www.amandasplate.com
The support system
My husband and I were watching MasterChef together after work one evening. When the casting call information came across the screen, Hussein immediately said, “You have to do it.” We went online and the list of cities for the casting calls did not include Seattle. There was a casting call on October 18th in Los Angeles. It was to be held two days after our wedding anniversary. Hussein asked, “Anniversary gift?” and off we went.
My mother, Hala, has encouraged me to pursue all of my dreams. She has always said to me “Amanda, you can do anything you put your mind to.” When I told her I was planning to audition for MasterChef, she was ecstatic!
Challenges because, you know, headscarf…
As with any profession, Muslim women wearing hijab can be faced with ignorance. In my experience, many stereotypes have been quickly dispelled as people get to know me. I believe my presence in the culinary world is breaking stereotypes that Muslim women are oppressed and cannot follow their passions. Here I am culinary world! I am free!
Cultural influence on cooking career
My cooking is a representation of me — East meets West. I love American food and I also love Mediterranean food. I love blending the flavor profiles and putting my own twist on classics. You can never have too much garlic, right?
Initial reaction to making it on MasterChef
Throughout the entire casting process, I have kept my faith in God’s plan for me. My prayers were, “God, if this is good for me, allow me to continue, and, if it is not, please protect me.” I think this was the only way for me to get through such a long process.
The season premiere of MasterChef USA airs on FOX on May 20 at 8:00 PM.