Leila Fadel/WASHINGTON POST - Ghalia Ali Mahmoud, 33, a breakout Ramadan star in Egypt, hosts a live cooking show. The former maid and cook to the rich picks out tomatoes before her live show last week in Cairo.
Only in the new Egypt could Ghalia Alia Mahmoud have become a celebrity.
A woman from a poor neighborhood, she cooks in tin pots with no handles, on propane burners lit with a match, in a kitchen without measuring cups. She uses simple, cheap ingredients such as beans, pasta and vegetables, all she can afford.
In the old Egypt, Mahmoud worked as a maid. But that was before Jan. 25, the beginning of the upheaval in which the destitute and the affluent stood shoulder to shoulder in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to force the ouster of a dictator and the end of a system that celebrated the elite while a huge underclass barely subsisted.
Mahmoud’s rise was the inspiration of Mohamed Gohar, the founder of a new television station named for the day the revolution began. He plucked the 33-year-old from his sister’s kitchen, where she had been employed as a cook, and tasked her with teaching Egyptians to prepare dishes they can actually afford.
With humor and down-home savings, Mahmoud has done it all with ease, becoming an unlikely symbol of a movement aimed at preserving the spirit of change and social justice in this country of more than 80 million people.
“This channel is letting Egyptians see themselves,” said Gohar, a media veteran and founder of Channel 25, where the cooking show, which began Aug. 1, offers niche audiences an alternative to the more popular soap operas broadcast during the long days of Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.
On her show, Mahmoud cooks in a kitchen that looks like her own at home, whipping up homemade yogurt and the fava-bean mash known as ful. She is tasked with making a meal that could feed a hungry family for just $4; she’s as homespun as Rachael Ray, who hosts the Food Network’s travel show “$40 a Day.”