Sara Chafak is Miss Finland 2012. She's also a trained chef and presenter of Salt to Saffron, a Finnish TV cookery show focusing on Finnish and Moroccan cuisine.
I've cooked with my friends since I was four, we tried everything in the fridge. Once my friend cut her finger when she was grating a carrot and I said, "We're in the kitchen—that happens." My mum came in and said, "What are you doing? Stop! People are cutting their skin off!" I said, "No, I'm gonna be a cook."
After that, she started sending me to after school clubs to keep me out of the kitchen.
I grew up in Finland. My mother is Finnish and my father is from Morocco. I learned to cook Moroccan food from my father's sister, who also lives in Finland. I spent my childhood weekends with her—she's an awesome cook and my favourite dish to make with her is tagine.
You can make it with meat or fish. It's famous in Morocco, there's a spice mix called charmoula made of cilantro, parsley, garlic, cumin, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. You marinade the fish in this, then there's potatoes, paprika, and tomato piled into the tagine. It's a quick dish—it only takes as long as it takes the potatoes take to cook—and in Finland, I use salmon, our most common fish. If it's a meat tagine, I use meat on the bone to make stock.
After high school, I spent three years in culinary school in Helsinki. I graduated ten weeks early because I was a competitive student and I'd wracked up extra credits. I did work placements in restaurants while I was studying. After I graduated, I spent a year in a cafeteria making salads and sandwiches—you have to start somewhere!
In 2012, I won Miss Finland. It was always going to happen, when I was shopping with my family when I was three, a lady stopped and said, "You look so pretty, you're going to be Miss Finland some day!" Apparently I said, "Yes, I am."
My grandmother always wanted me to enter pageants but she died when I was 14 so then I didn't want to think about them. When I turned 19, I had a change of heart and decided to enter Miss Helsinki. I was first runner-up, so I entered Miss Finland. When I won, it was a way of remembering my grandmother.
I stick to lean food and steer clear of anything processed like nuggets or fish sticks but when Miss Universe was over, I went for burgers with Miss Denmark and Miss Ethiopia.
I've always eaten healthy, organic food. Finnish food is very healthy and as a chef, I know about ingredients, so when I entered Miss Finland, I didn't need to go on a diet or change anything I ate. During Miss Universe, we all stayed in the same hotel but our meals weren't planned for us—it was up to us what we ate. We weren't told what to eat or even given any suggestions—it was up to us how competitive we wanted to be!
Usually, I would have fruit and pancakes for breakfast. For lunch and dinner, I'd eat fish, seafood, or meat with salad or vegetables. Sometimes I'd have sushi or macaroni.
The Miss Universe experience didn't change my eating habits. I'd eat whatever I wanted, as long as it was nutritious and gave me energy. I never overthought what I ate—it's better to enjoy it. Overall, I stick to lean food and steer clear of anything processed like nuggets or fish sticks. But when Miss Universe was over, I went for big, dirty burgers with Miss Denmark and Miss Ethiopia.
Winning Miss Finland opened doors for me. I was on the Finnish version of Dancing on Ice and I was the celebrity on the TV show Shark Cage. I also got my own cookery show on Fox. It's called Salt to Saffron because in Finland, the most used spices are salt and pepper and in Morocco it's saffron. The kitchen is half Moroccan, half Finnish—it has to be both!
We spent a month planning the show. There's not much Moroccan influence in Finland so this is my way of introducing Finnish people to Moroccan culture and cooking. It has so many spices and flavours—they're mind-blowing. My favourite is oxtail and plums. It's a traditional recipe and I cook it whenever I allow myself to have a heavy meal. It tastes so good, much better than it sounds.
People say, "You must make weird, expensive dishes at home!" I like to spend time in the kitchen but actually, I make quick, basic food. A simple dish I make is chicken with sweet potatoes, thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper, and olive oil—I just put it in the oven. Sometimes a chef needs simple, basic food.
A lot of people ask what my favourite food is, but I'm a mood eater—I eat whatever I feel like eating. Today it was sushi but I like almost everything—almost! Blood pancakes are the grossest shit ever, they trip my mind. They're made from flour, pigs' blood, and spices. They're between an English pancake and a French crepe and they're disgusting—don't ever try them if you go to Finland!
As told to Samantha Rea.