‘MY BIGGEST PASSION SINCE CHILDHOOD WAS FOOD. I WAS BROUGHT UP IN A FAMILY WITH STRONG-MINDED WOMEN, AND WHERE FOOD IS A WAY OF LIFE’ IQRA YASIN
Pakistan has a bunch of talented individuals from every field and we're lucky enough to meet one of them - Iqra Yasin. Most of you might remember her as a contestant on 'MasterChef Pakistan' (2014). We caught up with the chef at her place in Karachi where she exclusively spoke with us and posed for our camera.
Hi Iqra, tell us a little about yourself and your upbringing.
I am a 35-year-old Chartered Accountant chef/baker. I studied and completed my CA in 2016, but my biggest passion since childhood was food. I was brought up in a family with strong-minded women, and where food is a way of life. The men in our family always appreciated the food cooked by the women, especially when we as kids used to cook, my grandfather would give us a reward as appreciation of our efforts. I have memories of being around fouryears-old making ‘rotis’ with my toy rolling pin and my mom cooking those for me.
‘My greatest learning experience would be during the 'MasterChef Pakistan' show - The opportunity to work in international level kitchens and with the best names in the industry’
Where did you go to culinary school and what would you say has been your greatest learning from that experience?
I am completely self-taught. I learned from everywhere I could. Starting with my mother and aunts, to newspaper cuttings, to early cooking experts on TV like Zubaida Tariq and Kokab Khawaja on PTV. Then BBC food and the Internet opened the world to me. My greatest learning experience would however be during the MasterChef Pakistan show - The opportunity to work in international level kitchens and with the best names in the industry.
Did you always imagine being in the culinary/ baking industry or did you have other dreams?
I had always dreamed of cooking, but unfortunately due to lack of professional culinary institutes at the time I couldn’t take it up as part of my qualification. The dream of Zuchero Studio is a 10-year-old dream that is finally coming to reality.
‘I have memories of being around fouryears-old making ‘rotis’ with my toy rolling pin and my mom cooking those for me’
You were one of the top 10 contestant in 'MasterChef Pakistan' (2014). Tell us a bit about your overall experience on the show.
It was a dream come true for me; around two months of life revolving around food. We used to eat, sleep and talk about food. All the other contestants being equally passionate about food had us develop some amazing friendships and connections. Despite the experience being highly physically, mentally and emotionally challenging, it was all worth it.
Is there any recipe that is being carried on from your ancestors? If yes, tell us a bit about it.
I am known in my friend’s circle for my beef khausey. It’s a traditional Memon dish. I use the recipe that my grandmother used to make and my mom taught me. Another recipe is of ‘gur papri’, it’s a ‘mithai’ made with ‘gondh’, ‘gurr’ and wholewheat ‘aata’. I grew up making it with my mom during winters.
‘My style of cooking is about making the ingredients shine. And I am a believer of zero waste in the kitchen. I love to make things from scratch instead of relying on bottled and jarred ingredients’
What does a professional day in your life look like?
I wake up, and prepare lunch subscription meals to be delivered while having my coffee. After clearing that up, I start working on my orders for the day and then preparing for dinner events while also updating and planning lists for grocery runs. On the more laid back, low-pressure days, I plan out and experiment with new recipes.
Any crucial baking tip/s you would like our followers to know of?
Read the recipe. Measure out ingredients, do all the chopping cutting and other prep before you start cooking. Enjoy the time when you are cooking as your final products reflect your energy and thoughts within you while you are cooking.
A pro and con of running your own business?
The freedom of doing things you like to do is the pro. The biggest con would be lack of work life balance. Having your own business means no weekends, no holidays, and no sleep even during pressure days.
Where do you get inspiration from? Do you follow recipes or innovate – are you one of those people who like to do crazy things in the kitchen or are careful and precise?
I watch a lot of YouTube. I watch recipes and then with my own intuition, I work around ingredients locally available. I am more of a classic ‘gal’. My style of cooking is about making the ingredients shine. And I am a believer of zero waste in the kitchen. I love to make things from scratch instead of relying on bottled and jarred ingredients.
What are your thoughts on the dessert/baking scene in Pakistan? What is on top of your list and what’s not?
Unfortunately, with the lack of availability of a lot of ingredients locally, most of the things we as bakers want to produce end up costing us a lot, with customers not willing to pay the premium prices. There is a lot of room for improving the supply chain of high quality, locally produced raw materials. And for the dessert market, there is huge potential for innovative products and ideas.
‘Unfortunately, with the lack of availability of a lot of ingredients locally, most of the things we as bakers want to produce end up costing us a lot, with customers not willing to pay the premium prices’
Technology has taken over. We live in an era where everything is digital and showcased online. Any plans on being old school and opening up your own bakery/cafe?
Yes, but not any time soon. With the uncertainty that covid has brought into the picture, a café/bakery is a very high cost and a high-risk area unless you have a very strong financial investor behind you. We see so many cafés and bakeshops open and close within months due to not being able to sustain the financial burden while having unreliable streams of revenue.
What do you think sets you apart from the other bakers in Pakistan?
My personal touch. I am almost a one-man army. Everything I cook reflects a lot of warmth, care and love, which I channel into the food. What’s next for Iqra Yasin? There are a lot of projects that are in the pipeline. I cannot disclose at the moment but a lot is going to happen in the next few months.
INTERVIEW: SAFA ADNAN
PHOTOGRAPHY: SM UMAIR
FOOD PHOTOS: COURTESY IQRA YASIN