The only time Reem Ahmed remembers she’s an engineer is when her iron ring hits the pot when she’s cooking. (Iron rings are given to graduates of Canadian engineering programs in a tradition that dates back to 1922.)
Born in Egypt, Ahmed graduated from the biomedical engineering program at Ryerson University in 2015 and is now a top 21 finalist on Season 5 of MasterChef Canada, a competitive cooking reality show.
After graduating, Ahmed knew engineering wasn’t her passion and wanted something that would allow her to interact with people. She learned how to cook when she got married after graduation.
And when her son was born in 2016, she suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety; cooking was her way out.
“The only time I felt free of that [postpartum depression] is when I started cooking in the kitchen,” Ahmed said. “It gave me the freedom to experiment with ingredients and it was fun.”
She soon wanted to find a way to pursue that passion. As a longtime fan of MasterChef Canada, Ahmed was sitting on the couch watching it when she told her husband, “I wish I was one of the contestants on the show.”
He replied saying, “I’d have great respect for you if you did it.”
The show was taking applications at the time and Ahmed submitted a video of herself cooking just hours before the deadline. The next day, she got a call that she had been chosen for the show.
While getting on the show is an accomplishment on its own, Ahmed is also the first Muslim woman to wear a hijab on MasterChef Canada.
“It feels amazing but at the same time, there’s a lot of pressure,” Ahmed said. “You’re representing Muslims, women who wear hijabs and that’s a huge responsibility.”
Through her time on the show, she hopes to represent the women who may look up to her, such as other mothers and women who wear hijabs.
“I hope that I inspire all the young Muslim girls and new moms in our community to follow their passion,” she said. “To have the courage to get involved in our community even if we’re from the visible minority.”
While Ahmed can cook different types of food, she hopes to highlight Middle Eastern cuisine through her dishes during the season. Her audition dish was eggplant stuffed with basmati rice, baba ghanoush and charcoal beef.
Although she trained as an engineer, the show has inspired her to shift her focus. Ahmed now plans to open an Egyptian restaurant in downtown Toronto.
“There’s a lot of Middle-Eastern food, but it’s mostly shawarma and falafel, it’s the basic stuff. I need to show people that’s more to Egyptian cuisine.”
The first episode of MasterChef Canada Season 5 airs on April 3.