x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Money&Me: Follow your heart for the career of your dreams

Saba Wahid is a freelance TV presenter, blogger and culinary enthusiast who is currently writing a cookbook on Pakistani cuisine.

Saba Wahid was born in the US, but is getting back to her Pakistani roots by writing a cookbook featuring traditional recipes. Jaime Puebla / The National
Saba Wahid was born in the US, but is getting back to her Pakistani roots by writing a cookbook featuring traditional recipes. Jaime Puebla / The National

Saba Wahid is a freelance TV presenter, blogger and culinary enthusiast who is currently writing a cookbook on Pakistani cuisine. The American, who arrived in the UAE in August 2010 to present a lifestyle programme on Dubai One, moved into television from a career in marketing and communications after experiencing a life-changing moment following heart surgery.

Where did your passion for food come from?

I was born and raised in the States, but my ethnicity is Pakistani, so it all ties back to my family. I was brought up on Pakistani food, but we would go out for pizza or Chinese, too. Thanksgiving was one of our favourite holidays and that's all about turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. My grandmother, who did not like this type of food, would bring her biryani and eggplant burtha, so Pakistani food became part of the festive atmosphere, too. Since moving here, I miss things like that - family get-togethers that are always food focused.

Is that why you are writing a book about Pakistani cuisine?

Yes. The cookery book was a natural progression. It wasn't until I came here and didn't have access to my family's recipes that I decided I needed to learn how to make the food myself and it's been a very interesting journey. It makes me sad that I don't have a lot of connection to my roots, which is another reason I wanted to move here - the UAE provides a perfect balance of the East and West. Pakistani cuisine is under represented. It is often grouped in the same category as Indian cuisine, so I want the book to define what Pakistani cuisine is and make it more practical for the everyday person. The book will focus on making it more modern in terms of style, presentation and preparation.

How did you get into television?

A few years ago, I had heart surgery for a birth defect that had gone undetected my entire life. I was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect, which is basically a hole in the heart. After the surgery, I had a lot of time to reflect while I recovered and although my career background was corporate communications and marketing, I had this brilliant idea to make a cooking show and have it broadcast, produced and aired in the Middle East. It sounds like a cliché, but it was a life-changing moment. So I made a pilot and sent it to some networks here and in the States. Dubai One was interested and they brought me over for a casting and offered me a presenting position on the Studio One show. I used to do a cooking segment with my own recipes, plus organise chefs on a daily basis to come, so it was very exciting. But because it was a daily live show, it was very demanding. So at the end of the season, I decided to put more focus on this cookbook.

What is your biggest financial challenge?

Saving enough. That's always been a challenge for me. I am definitely a spender. I wish I knew how to penny-pinch more, but I never want to be perceived as frugal or cheap. I have this idea ingrained in me that if you have money and are in a comfortable position, you need to be generous and share it. It's difficult even just to go out for a casual night - I'll end up spending more than anybody without any intention to. I won't just want one thing; I want to order five things and share them, but I think that goes back to my passion for food.

What has been your most valuable financial lesson?

Dubai is quite material focused and if you are in the media industry and out and about, you don't want to be photographed in the same outfit or with the same handbag twice, so you have to build up your wardrobe. Then I realised I needed to be smarter about it. When I went home to the States last summer, I found there are more cost-effective options for shopping. So I loaded up in the sales and at the outlet malls, where there were Karen Millen dresses for a quarter of the price.

Do you plan for the future?

I know that my life right now is not what I picture it to be in five to 10 years. I'm going to keep working my way up and hope my income will be reflected accordingly. What I have earned so far has been appropriate to my age and skill level, but there hasn't been a boom. It's been a gradual process and everything I am doing now is for my future and hopefully, when I have a family one day, for them as well. At the moment, I'm single and supporting myself. But I would always have my own financial independence. In traditional Pakistani households, the woman gets married and she basically supports the family. But I argued with my parents about that for years, saying "Why would you bring us up in the States, give us an education and then want to waste that away?" I am career-driven and if I lose focus of that, I would be disappointed in myself. So I want a career and the man will come eventually - when the time is right.