Asma moved to Cambridge from Calcutta in 1991 to join her academic husband. She is Rajput on her father’s side and Bengali on her mother’s. After studying law, Asma went on to do a PhD in Law at Kings College London. Cooking was 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 and Darjeeling Express the restaurant opened its doors in June 2017. A year later, her cookbook “Asma’s Indian Kitchen” was published by Pavilion in October 2018. The book was the winner in the U.K. category for food publishing in Indian cuisine in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Asma’s Indian Kitchen was also shortlisted for best debut cookbook in the Fortnum & Mason 2019 awards. Asma is the first British chef to feature in Netflix’s Chef’s Table. The series’ sixth season, which includes Khan’s episode, was nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Documentary section. Asma is married and has two boys.
When did you first become interested in cooking and how did you gain the confidence to pursue your passion?
I first became interested in cooking when I came to this country to join my academic husband in 1991. I did not know how to cook, and I realized that one of the ways of dealing with the homesickness was to cook food from my home in India; also, I got a break from my husband’s chicken curry. I got the confidence from the response of the people who I invited to the house and fed. They were very grateful, and complimentary. This helped a lot. It encouraged me to cook and try new recipes.
At what point in your journey did you have the idea of starting an all-women kitchen and why was it so important to you?
The all-women kitchen grew organically; not because it was an idea that I had. Many of these women who are working in my kitchen today would come and help me in my supper clubs, which I hosted from home on their day off. Most of them were live-in nannies and missed food from home. It was very important because it seemed the most natural thing to me as I grew up around women who cooked, especially my mother. The men in our family never cooked.
Tell us a bit about the women who work at your restaurant.
Most of the women who work in my restaurant began working for me from 2012 when I hosted supper clubs at home. They were like me, home cooks and did not consider themselves chefs in any way. Some of them support families as large as 15-20 people back home.
We know that your food is unique in that it reflects your personal journey and heritage, coming from Royal Mughlai Ancestry and growing up Calcutta, so tell us about your menu and those influences?
My menu is a mix of street food and comfort food from Calcutta, they come from home food in Calcutta together with unique royal dishes from my maternal and paternal side. I also have a couple of royal dishes of Hyderabad where I spent my childhood.
What do you love most about your job and what has been the highlight for you so far?
I love the strength I see radiating from the women in the kitchen team, who have in the autumn of their lives found a spring. A highlight has been being asked to feature as the first British chef on Netflix; it was very exciting and a huge honour because no one had been featured from this region before.