Asma Khan, Chef and Founder of Darjeeling Express is the first British Chef on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. An acclaimed, award winning documentary series, each episode of the series profiles and is dedicated to one world-renowned chef. We are naturally delighted that the first British Chef to be profiled is a talented, engaging South Asian woman, this is a testament to the force that is Asma Khan!
The episode is split between India and the UK, as Asma shares her compelling life story. Right from her birth which was a source of sorrow for her mother as she was the second daughter and there was a longing for a son, a hope that we know is felt by many in the South Asian diaspora. Asma shares that when a daughter is born there are no celebrations, no joy or fireworks in India but deep anxiety due to the pressures of providing a dowry for a daughters marriage. She has set up ‘Second Daughters Fund’ which is starting in Kurseong, a small town in the district of Darjeeling, where Asma and the team will send celebration packages for the birth of second daughter and continue to support her through her education. The restaurant adds a voluntary donation of £1 to each bill at the restaurant to support this wonderful initiative.
In this episode, Asma shares an experience that shaped her. Her father took her to the top of their ancestral fortress when she was a young girl and showed her the slums below and told her ‘It’s an accident of birth that you are born in our family and not there…use your position and privilege to have an impact on others…to lift them up’. You can feel that it left a deep impression on her mindset and inspired many of her actions.
Asma moved from India to the UK following her marriage, she studied for a Law Degree and then a PHD. She was the first in her family to go onto further education and this was a source of deep joy and pride for her parents. She turned to cooking and food during periods of loneliness – when she felt homesick and disconnected from India. This then turned into a passion that she experimented with in a supper club hosted at her home, and then a popup at Sun & 13 Cantons pub.
The super club, then the pop up, eventually led to a permanent Darjeeling Express restaurant at Top Floor, Kingly Court, Carnaby, London, W1B 5PW. Her kitchen is famously run by all women, none professionally trained chefs, but South Asian women who cook with their heart and have this kind of cooking in their DNA. When the restaurant is closed on Sundays she encourages other female South Asian chefs to use the venue for supper clubs. She talks eloquently and passionately about elevating the role of women, the power of female bonds and tribes…a woman after our heart!
Lonrna Nanda Gangotra , Founder of The Little Indian Kitchen, who knows Asma and has hosted a supper club at Darjeeling Express said:
‘Finally, watched the long anticipated episode on Season 6 of Chef’s Table, with the wonderful Asma Khan. I felt emotional but also very uplifted and hungry!
I got a little teary seeing Asma’s journey dealing with being a second daughter, especially as I’m one too but I never felt the burden of that as Asma did. Growing up in my family – I was Daddy’s girl and the apple of his eye. Asma, didn’t shy away from any of her life journey and covered it all with hope, courage, love and authenticity – she has a lovely way of keeping it “real”.
She inspires others to follow their dream – she made that happen for me last year when she welcomed me with open arms and open doors to host my first “Ghar ka Khanna” supper club at her restaurant – there was a feeling of being at home in there. She gave me so much confidence and said just come and do it, you’ll be absolutely fine! And I was. She came along and supported me too – I will never forget how empowered and uplifted she made me feel, I was on cloud 9 for many days thereafter.
It was also wonderful to see her tribe of women – her amazing all female kitchen staff – featured on the show too – like myself not professionally trained chefs but home cooks with a passion and ethos to show people our love and affection and bring them joy through our food.
Asma deserves all the success and is truly inspirational with a heart of gold. We were lucky enough to be invited to her book launch last year where the room was filled with so much joy, love and excitement for this fearless and compassionate woman, and yes she had cooked up a regal feast whilst dealing with all the planning for the event including clearing out her restaurant to make space for everyone!
In her words, “The colour of our skin, our religions, the size of our bodies is irrelevant. If women stand by women, magic happens.” Enough said – this sums it all up for me. “
It also sums it up for us! A must watch, Asma Khan, Chef’s Table episode is on Netflix now.