Chef Asma Khan Listed Among 100 Most Influential People Of 2024
Image Credit: Asma Khan/ Instagram

If anyone can be credited for taking Bengali cuisine to England and making it famous around the world, it’s Chef Asma Khan. Born in Kolkata, West Bengal, in July 1969, Chef Asma Khan is an Indian-born British restaurateur and cookbook author who was listed in the TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2024. She is among eight Indians who have made it to the list, including Alia Bhatt, Satya Nadella, Sakshi Malik, and Dev Patel.

Chef Asma founded and runs Darjeeling Express in Soho, London. It was also the first UK-based restaurant to appear on Chef’s Table, a Netflix series starring and documenting renowned chefs around the world. 

Another thing interesting about Darjeeling Express is it comprises all-female Indian employees, mostly above 50, and reportedly, none have attained formal training in cooking. Interestingly, Khan only started cooking after she moved to England in 1991. Khan completed her PhD in law in 2012, but the universe had other plans for her.

Chef Asma Khan Taking Indian Food To England

Image Credit: Asma Khan/ Instagram

Asma Khan is a middle child. Her father worked to unionise labourers in India, and her mother ran a catering business from the 1970s to 1980s. After her marriage in 1991, when Khan moved to England, she started missing the dishes she grew up eating at home. Therefore, she started taking cooking lessons from her aunt, who lived in Cambridge. 

Reportedly, when her aunt passed away, Asma Khan came to India for a few months to continue to learn cooking from her mother and cook in the family. The chef started her career in this field by hosting private supper clubs at home after completing her education.

Chef Asma Khan’s Journey To Open Darjeeling Express

Image Credit: Asma Khan/ Instagram

After gaining popularity through private supper clubs, Vivek Singh, an Indian celebrity chef, invited her for a pop-up at his restaurant, The Cinnamon Club. During an interview with Slurrp, she called it a “turning point.” When the supper grew, it became difficult for Khan to host it at her home, and eventually, she moved to a Soho pub where she started hosting lunches. 

Asma Khan came across an opportunity to lease a place in Soho. Though her husband disapproved of her business, he helped her out, and Khan opened Darjeeling Express, serving Bengali and Indian Rajput delicacies. 

In an interview with Slurrp in 2022, she said, “Even to my surprise I never felt that the kind of food I cook from home even had any future or would be accepted in the hospitality world. Building a restaurant was not something I ever thought would happen.”

She added, “But when it happened, I knew it was so different, and I can proudly say that mine is an all-female Indian restaurant in the world serving food at the price range and location we have. What I figured was that whether it was the colour of my skin or even my faith, it did not make any difference, but it was my kitchen which was different.”

In 2018, her cookbook, Asma’s Indian Kitchen, was called a ‘stellar debut’. After starring in Chef’s Table, reportedly, it became difficult to get a reservation at Darjeeling Express. In 2020, Khan closed the restaurant due to the pandemic, but she came back with a bang, and reopened it in Covent Garden with a space for 120 people to dine in.