Tala Bashmi© tala.bashmi

Chef Tala Bashmi On Bahraini Cuisine, Sustainability And More

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Nayare Ali

Chef Tala Bashmi is a name synonymous with modern Bahraini cuisine, particularly owing to her award-winning restaurant, Fusions by Tala. Inspired by her father, whose Machbous (a spiced rice dish) is her all-time favourite dish, Tala’s commitment to sustainability is reflected in her use of local and seasonal ingredients, reducing food waste and pushing the boundaries of traditional Bahraini cuisine.

“I grew up watching him [her father] cook, educating us about the use of indigenous ingredients and how our spice enhances our cuisine,” she reveals, adding “And through my culinary training in Switzerland, I blend our traditional cuisine with modern techniques…”

Famously known as Middle East & North Africa’s (MENA) Best Female Chef in 2022, Chef Tala Bashmi is an icon shining amid the culinary landscape of Bahrain. On a mission to modernise Bahraini cuisine, Chef Tala brings a mix of convention and innovation to the table.

Chef Tala Bashmi©tala.bashmi

Fusions by Tala, located at the five-star Gulf Hotel in Bahrain, has garnered multiple awards, including #3 Best Restaurants in the Middle East & North Africa. And in 2023, Chef Tala was voted #63 Best Chef and Rising Star by the Best Chef Awards. HELLO! interacts with the culinary genius for a quick tête-à-tête…

HELLO!: Tala, welcome to India! Is this your first time here? If so, what was your initial impression?

Tala Bashmi: “This is my first visit to India and I’ve been wowed by the vibrant life in Bengaluru and Mumbai. I loved the different flavours used in each dish and protein; I’ll be sure to incorporate some of the flavours for my future tasting menu!”

H!: Also, congratulations are in order! What does it take to be identified as the best female chef in the MENA region?

TB: “I was honoured and at the same time, taken back by the award as my belief is that a chef ’s achievement shouldn’t be defined by their gender. However, I understand what the award meant, in a male-led industry, serving as an encouragement to women to enter and be recognised for their skills and talent.”

H!: You’ve been a vocal advocate for sustainability and have consistently supported local cuisine. Do you think altering produce can change its taste?

TB: “Whenever I work at international events, I incorporate local ingredients to my signature dishes allowing guests to taste the two flavours — both Bahrain and their country. For instance, at my recent event in India, I created a Morel mushroom dish, using Bahraini flavours and a local ingredient.”

Chef Tala Bashmi©tala.bashmi

H!: What are the popular misconceptions that people have about Bahraini food?

TB: “I started Fusions by Tala to introduce and elevate the Bahraini cuisine as it was not well known. It is influenced by several countries yet remains uniquely Bahraini. For example, we have the influence of India, Persian, Portuguese in our cuisine from earlier civilisation.”

H!: Last year, you were voted at number 63 at the Best Chef Awards as the rising star! How did it feel?

TB: “I was honoured to be voted as a rising star, coming up to 63rd in 2023 from 93rd in 2022. This gives me confidence that I’m on the right track to introducing our delicious Bahraini cuisine to the world!”

H!: You trained at the Culinary Arts Academy in Switzerland, and have worked alongside Michelin-starred chefs at Prisma and the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois. How did those experiences prepare you for your current role?

TB: “I gained my modern culinary technique at the academy and the years spent working in Michelin restaurants cemented what I am known for — modern fusion Bahraini cuisine. And throughout my career since, I have had great opportunities to work alongside Michelin-starred chefs. I’ve taken away valuable experiences and knowledge from each, enhancing my techniques to elevate Bahraini cuisine. My training pushed my ability to understand how flavours can be enhanced.”

Chef Tala Bashmi©tala.bashmi

H!: What does a regular day in Tala’s life look like?

TB: “It’s not a very exciting life, like most chefs! I start my day with exercise as this rejuvenates me, head to the restaurant to start preparing for the day’s service and head home after midnight.”

H!: What are your passions outside of cooking?

TB: “I trained to be a professional football player and served on the national team for several years until a serious injury put a stop to that career! I also practise Kintsugi, an art form where you fix a broken vessel and give it new life.”

H!: How do you strike a balance between family and career?

TB: “A chef ’s working hours are typically 18 hours a day, so there’s little opportunity to socialise. Whenever I’m in Bahrain, I spend Sunday afternoons with my family, eating home cooked meals by my father.”

H!: How do you de-stress at the end of day?

TB: “I have a vast vinyl collection; there’s nothing better than getting home and listening to some music to unwind. On rare occasions, I may meet up with friends and catch up.”

H!: What are your goals for 2024, both personally and professionally?

TB: “I’ve got a packed calendar for 2024 that I’m excited about, exploring new cuisines and countries, and new dishes to be added to my tasting menu! I am exploring other ideas that I can’t disclose yet.”

This article has been adapted for the website from the April 2024 issue of HELLO! India. Grab your copies here.