You may have seen the name Asma Khan pop up in cooking magazines, recipes online, and cookbooks, perhaps you have even tasted some of her food and are looking to learn a little bit more about her.
Not only is Asma Khan’s food critically acclaimed and highly in demand, but her background and story are incredibly inspiring.
In this article, we will look at everything you need to know about who Asma Khan is and why she is so well known.
What Does Asma Khan Do?
In short, Asma Khan is a chef, although that truly does her a disservice.
To be more specific, Khan is a chef, restaurateur, and author who built her name and reputation up from very humble beginnings into a multifaceted business and career.
Asma Khan’s passion is quite clearly cooking, but this didn’t come to her until later in her life when she found herself newly married, thousands of miles away from her home country, and missing the dishes that she used to enjoy.
It was this homesickness that inspired her to begin learning how to cook from scratch.
Khan began to learn how to cook from an aunt who lived close to her and later from her mother when she would visit her home country for extended periods of time.
Despite gaining a law degree to Ph.D. level, Asma Khan couldn’t escape her newfound love of cooking and soon began running supper clubs from her home.
It was at one of these supper clubs that Indian-born celebrity chef Vivek Singh offered her a pop-up restaurant opportunity.
From here, the supper clubs grew in capacity and popularity, eventually leading to the opening of her very own restaurant in an extremely affluent part of London.
Khan was able to make the dream of opening her own restaurant a reality with the financial support of her husband, although he did not approve of the idea of the business.
What Restaurant Does Asma Khan Own?
The restaurant that Asma Khan opened was called the Darjeeling Express and it opened its doors for the first time in 2017 in Soho, London.
The restaurant was affectionately named after the train that Asma would ride during the summer holidays as a child, providing a nod to her roots and a perfect indication of the flavors on offer.
One of the most fascinating things about the restaurant was the team that helped Asma to run it, consisting of other Asian immigrant women who also had full-time jobs alongside the restaurant and were never professionally trained.
The women would work for Asma on their days off from their day jobs until they were able to cut down the hours at their other jobs and eventually they managed to leave them altogether and become full-time employees at the Darjeeling Express.
Most of the women who worked in the restaurant were second daughters who all came from South Asian backgrounds. This may have added to the appeal of the restaurant, giving it a truly authentic atmosphere.
The Darjeeling Express was labeled a smash hit in a critical review and shortly after, Asma was profiled in a BBC documentary about cooking.
The restaurant was closed at its Soho premises in 2020 due to the pandemic but reopened in a slightly different form in Covent Garden at the end of the same year.
Where Is Asma Khan From?
Asma Khan was born and raised in Calcutta, India for her entire childhood.
She has an older sister and a younger brother and throughout her childhood, her family would openly discuss their feelings about having a second daughter instead of the preferential and desired son.
Asma Khan has been very open about the fact that this is a common occurrence in South Asian households and about the effect that it had on her relationship with her family.
It also explains the significance of Khan’s workforce at Darjeeling Express consisting mainly of other second daughters who share similar experiences.
After Asma Khan’s arranged marriage in Calcutta, she emigrated to Cambridge, England where she obtained her law education all the way through to the Ph.D. level.
It is the flavors and dishes that Asma enjoyed growing up in Calcutta that inspire the menu at Darjeeling Express in both of its forms.
Why Is Asma Khan Famous?
Aside from the widespread critical acclaim that has been bestowed upon her supper clubs, pop-up restaurant, and permanent restaurant, Asma Khan has tried her hand at other aspects of cookery and food culture.
In 2018, only one year after Darjeeling Express had opened in Soho, London, Asma had her first cookbook published.
Called Asma’s Indian Kitchen, the book featured recipes that were available at her restaurant as well as some other favorites from her childhood.
Following the same trend as her restaurant, Asma’s cookbook quickly became a critical and commercial success, drawing reviews such as “Stellar debut” from publications such as The San Francisco Chronicle.
The book was shortlisted for the Gourmand award in the Best Indian Cookbook category.
In the same year as her debut cookbook was published, Asma was also approached to appear on the next season of Chef’s Table, a Netflix documentary series about various chefs.
Agreeing to be on the show, Asma Khan became the first British chef to be profiled on the show (Also check out the life story of another Amazing British Chef – Margot Henderson). The filming took place in London and India, following the journey, life, and kitchen of Asma.
After Khan’s episode of the series became available to stream, it was almost impossible to get a reservation at the Darjeeling Express, leading to offers of celebrity investments to help her to expand including an offer from Danny DeVito.
Asma Khan has had an interesting journey to becoming a world-renowned and critically acclaimed chef and restaurateur.
The popularity of her restaurants keeps growing in both size and popularity and is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.