Jazz Shaper: Asma Khan

Posted on 20 November 2021

Asma Khan is the chef and owner of Darjeeling Express.

Cooking was always her passion and she began her food career in 2012 as a supper club in her home. In 2015, she opened a pop-up in a Soho pub to much acclaim, and Darjeeling Express the restaurant opened its doors in June 2017. A year later, her debut cookbook “Asma’s Indian Kitchen” was published by Pavilion. The book was the winner in the U.K. category for food publishing in Indian cuisine in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

Making the move from Cambridge from Calcutta in 1991, Asma now lives in London with her husband and two boys. She comes from a royal background – Rajput on her father’s side and Bengali on her mother’s.

Business Insider named her number 1 on their list of "100 Coolest People in Food and Drink". She has been included in the 2020 and 2021 editions of the GG2 Power List –profiling Britain’s 101 most influential Asians and was the first chef to be featured on Vogue's list of 25 most influential women of the year.

Highlights

Initially I started off doing these little kind of secret restaurants, clandestine meetings in my house only for hunger charities.

I worked with charities feeding children in war zones and working in refugee camps… I did that because I felt it was a very Indian thing, that you must start in a very auspicious way.

I’ve said this on many occasions… people walk through the old lanes of Delhi and the dust that flies from Jamal Mosque – that’s the dust of ancestors, my ancestors, my clan.

I will take them wherever their home is but I wanted to cook. Not for myself, I wanted to feed people.

Many years later someone left a note on my table in my restaurant and I don’t know who it was. He said, ‘I ate this meal, I wept, I cried for a home that I had forgotten existed and now I want to go back home’. I cried so much because this is what food can do.

My roots are [in India]. I am nourished, I have sustenance from the soil and the culture, the music, the rhythm, the aromas of home but it is absolutely true… we would never have been allowed to have an all-female restaurant.

I am a Londoner. I always say London mirijan, London is my heartbeat. London is my love because the thing is you know, it, it allows us the space to have a restaurant like this, you can be anything you want in London.

Everyone has only seen my success. No one has seen my failures. You haven’t seen the doors that were closed on me. I’ve been through all of that in darkness, before the world found out who I was.

The impact really is to show that you can be good and good guys can win and you don’t need to be ruthless, you don’t need to crush everything around you.

For many of us, food is part of our DNA and because it is part of our DNA we are unaware of how sacred it is.

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