Rupchanda-The Daily Star Super Chef 2018 made way for an ultimate true talent and passionate culinary enthusiast – Shamsun Nahar (Neha). Neha's first cooking foray was at home, and later put her on a life-changing course of events. With wide knowledge about cooking and expertise acquired over the years, she won herself the most coveted 'Super Chef' title this year. This undoubtedly is a glorious achievement to be proud of. To learn more about Neha's transformative cooking journey, The Daily Star interviewed this talented Super chef after her great win.
Being the eldest daughter of the house, Shamsun Nahar used to be fond of making snacks for her younger siblings and parents. Hence, her acquaintance with the kitchen and its activities was early, and intimate. After she got married, she broadened her sphere by experimenting with main courses and complimentary side dishes at her in-laws'. The regular attempts and keen interest in cooking together enriched her culinary skill set. In fact, her thirst to deepen her understanding of cooking helped her learn about the rich food diversity in Bangladesh and around the world.
With support from family and confidence in her own capabilities, Shamsun Nahar entered through the doors of Rupchanda-The Daily Star Super Chef 2018. Food experimentation and innovation are Neha's strong suits which were well executed through her 'Chicken Barfi' in the qualifying round. “I was the first to be selected from Dhaka for the top 20,” she happily recalled. Since then, she has only strived to give her best. Even when she was in the pressure tests, she maintained her positivity and determination to keep going. She said, “Among the top 3 finalists, I faced pressure cook-offs the highest number of times. My presence in the danger zone taught me to keep my cool under pressure even when on the verge of elimination. I managed to get back to the kitchen and with a better performance every time.” However, the competition was different for Neha than the other participants because one of the competitors was her younger sister, Nur Nahar. The times when Nur Nahar learnt cooking from her elder sister and both the sisters jointly cooked evening snacks for the family had changed into a competition. Neha admits that she sometimes had conflicting interests as a sister and a competitor, but her sisterly love never died. “Though she was my competitor in the show, it really made me proud when she performed well in the kitchen,” Shamsun Nahar said proudly.
When asked about her most memorable challenge in the competition, she quickly responded with the mustard oil challenge. She added, “It makes me elated when I think about the mustard oil challenge where I prepared Spicy and Smokey Mustard Green Chicken. I think I got the scope to show my variation in that particular episode.” But her art of innovation was not just limited to spicy food. “I have experimented a lot with sweets. So much so that I was known as 'Dessert Queen' for my expertise around sweet dishes,” Neha said.
So what made Shamsun Nahar this year's Super Chef? She shared her four critical qualities that favoured her chances- time management, hygiene, creativity and culinary knowledge. She said time management and hygiene are the fundamental criteria to participate in the competition. Additionally, a show of creativity and knowledge about different cuisines, spices, and techniques can have a profound effect on a participant's stay in the Super Chef kitchen. Clearly, she has proven herself a deserving winner by demonstrating a complete set of all-round qualities.
While she reminisced about her journey, Neha never forgot to express her gratitude to the Super Chef competition. “Rupchanda-The Daily Star Super Chef 2018 provided me the platform to make my dream come true. It certainly supported me to feed my passion and provided me with the incentives to be a self-dependent and solvent woman,” Neha grinned in delight. “I think, this has been the most enjoyable journey where I got to meet and learn from participants of different regions of Bangladesh. In a nutshell, this competition helped me to discover myself as a confident woman.”
A grateful Neha also remembered her parents for their support in her development. As a family-oriented woman, she hopes to repay their efforts by opening a restaurant together with her siblings. Prior to that, the student in her wants to upgrade her profile by enrolling into various national and international cooking courses.
Shamsun Nahar is a driven and focused individual. Not to mention, she also commits her time to both her in-laws and parents. As a married woman in a society where stereotypical views come to play, she successfully overcame social hurdles. “Only strong determination and a targeted goal can help a woman reach out to her dream,” she said firmly. Her win was certainly not an easy ride but she is no quitter either. She faced struggles and conquered them as well. Rupchanda-The Daily Star Super Chef 2018, Neha's story is an inspiration to women who succumb to social pressures and to all the hidden culinary gems of the country. Here was a glimpse of the start of her cooking journey. Like we said in our goodbyes to her, we wish that the path only proceeds to a long and prosperous one.
By Labiba Faiaz Bari and Noshin Noorjahan
Photo: Prabir Das