Amal Hassan was just 15 when she arrived in the UK on her own as a refugee from Somalia after the civil war broke out.
From ‘rock bottom’, she worked her way up to a high flying banking career before returning to the lifelong love of cooking her childhood in Mogadishu instilled in her, appearing on MasterChef and launching her own range of chilli sauces last year.
“I was raised by my grandma, my mum’s mum, who was just an amazing, loving, wonderful woman,” she said.
“She was the only parent I knew in my formative years. She was illiterate but a fantastic cook. I would describe her as a feeder – cooking was the way she showed her love.
“Our house was quite central in the community. She was larger than life and everyone knew her. There was an open door policy.
“People would show up often who were hungry, people who couldn’t afford three meals a day. We had a cooking stove in the centre of the courtyard where she made really rich stews and really big portions.
“I remember in the mornings we’d go to the Bakaara Market where the farmers come and bring their fresh produce, the dairy farmers bring their milk, butchers have fresh meat – everything was fresh.
“We didn’t have any fridge at home so she’d go and buy everything she needed for that day.
“Growing up with that – cooking from scratch – and the love and attention that went into cooking was a big part of my day and my bond with my grandma.”
Amal, who also spent part of her childhood in Yemen, was 14 when her grandmother died and fled the war a year later in 1996, travelling alone to London as a refugee.
“I was quite lucky in that I had family in the UK, that’s why I was able to come here,” she said.
“I was basically trying to find a better life. I had dreams, I read a lot, I was educated privately and I really wanted to go to university.
“[Arriving here] is a part of my life honestly I try to forget. It isn’t very pleasant when you come in as a refugee. You don’t have money and you aren’t allowed to work.
“I was quite young and I lived in a shelter, it was a very basic existence. In the beginning when I first came here I cried for two days straight, feeling sorry for myself.
“For a long time when I came to the UK I was at rock bottom. I had all these fantasies about what the UK was like and then there was the reality of being a refugee