Chef Shaheen: From MasterChef UK to UAE

david@khaleejtimes.com Filed on May 5, 2021

Iraqi cook swaps rainy London for sunny Dubai to produce more Arab-centric shows

It’s one of the most recognisable cooking show brands in the world and last year Iraqi chef Shaheen made his way onto the original incarnation in the UK. There, on Masterchef, he competed against the country’s best: putting forward Baghdad-infused recipes for a predominantly Western audience to great acclaim. Already a pretty successful social media contributor, the 26-year-old’s TV appearance sent his accounts into the millions of subscribers, allowing him to focus on producing online foodie content full time. It even even led to a recent move to the UAE where, since the leap, his Instagram numbers have swelled to over two million and Facebook followers north of three million.

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Shaheen’s brand of fun presentation and interesting Arabic food make him an ideal representative of local cuisine and throughout this Ramadan he has topped the Facebook Watch charts with shows dedicated to his craft. Eid celebrations will be no different, so we thought we’d ask what he had in store.

How does it feel to be one of Facebook’s top creators? When did you first begin to realise you could do this professionally and have it become your full-time job?

Being a Facebook creator is amazing as it gives you the flexibility to create your own content and to present yourself how you like to your audience. I first realised that I could become a full-time content creator when I got my first sponsor. It was not that much money at the time. But it gave me a feeling if I work harder I can earn more.

What sort of content did you focus on this Ramadan and how did you feel it went?

Of course, as a chef in Ramadan, we all on focus on food content. It is the most popular at this time. So I created a series of videos in collaboration with other chefs to create authentic Iraqi food.

What kind of content do you have planned for Eid? How do you manage to keep it original and different from other creators during such a communal celebration?

Before Ramadan we filmed two different video series. The first one is a celebrity v.s. chef show. The other one is the chef visiting restaurant kitchens. They are up now and are currently both doing great. During Eid you will see the best videos from the two series.

How does being based in the MENA region help in being an online presence? If you were based in another country do you believe you would have succeeded in the same way?

I used to live in the UK four months ago. I really struggled to collaborate with brands and content creators like me. When I moved to Dubai everything changed. It has become very easy for me.

How do you deal with both positive and negative feedback?

First of all when I get positive feedback I am always over the moon. But when I see negative feedback I stop and think: ‘is this negative feedback is really true?’ If it is not, I ignore it, but sometimes the feedback can help me improve my content. One day somebody commented and said that my videos had become too long and boring. And he was right! I started cutting down my videos, making them shorter and more interesting. Because of that I started getting more views.

What advice do you have for people trying to start in your industry today?

They really need to love what they do otherwise they will not be able to continue, as it is a tough industry. It needs hard work.

Do you think there is a difference between providing content for a predominantly Arabic-speaking audience and other language channels?

I am targeting an Arabic speaking audience only, as I feel that there is low competition. And I can reach more followers easily. As an Arab, I want to be known as an Arabic chef who speaks Arabic and cook Arabic food.

Who do you like watching and why?

I like watching my competitors to keep an eye on what they are doing! Watching celebrity chefs is also enjoyable.

What do you have planned for Eid yourself? What will you be doing?

Obviously I’ve worked very hard in Ramadan to produce the videos so during Eid I will take a really good break with a lot of food. I won’t be cooking!


David Light

David is originally from the United Kingdom and has been a journalist in the UAE for 12 years. A keen lifestyle writer, his work centres on motoring, dining, travel, film and local and international entertainment. When he is not at his desk, David enjoys taking a motorbike out for an early ride, delving into a historical biography or exploring new languages and countries. Email him about any of his stories or to reach out about one of your own.