Asma Khan wears many hats with elan: Those of a chef, restaurateur and a cookbook author.
However, one thing that sets the 50-year-old apart from the rest is her wish to change the lives of women who are victims of strife and sexual exploitation in countries like Syria, Bangladesh and even India.
So, how did the Indian-born British citizen begin her journey towards this end?
Born and brought up in Kolkata, Asma shifted to London after an arranged marriage. After earning a PhD in law, she recalled, she aspired to start a restaurant to help women in distress. On the other hand, her academician husband wanted her to empower them via her knowledge of law.
She finally launched an all-women restaurant ‘Darjeeling Express’ in London in 2017 with money given by her husband. The restaurant staff totalled 24, including nine Indian and Nepali women who handled the kitchen operations.
Within a few months, the restaurant had climbed the popularity charts with its signature Indian Rajput and Bengali specialties. At least 75 per cent of the clientele was non-Asian.
After breaking even, Asma opened a cafeteria in July 2019 in camp ‘Essyan’ in Kurdistan area of northern Iraq, hiring women who had suffered one way or the other due to war. Five women staff who know how to cook a large number of meals are on the job.
“In my London restaurant, a visitor once spoke of the plight of women and kids in the war zone. I then decided to open my new cafeteria there,” she says.
Asma said she wishes to open her next cafeteria in Bangladesh, to help Rohingya women who have seen and suffered sexual violence. Kolkata’s infamous red-light area is also on her cafeteria list.
“I wish to use the process of preparation and service of food as a balm for women who have been hurt by torture at the hands of men.”
“I am 50 now. I wish to tell women that they should not stop at this age… women have been cooking since times immemorial but have not been rewarded. Family members take them for granted. I am representing these women who were never rewarded for what they did for us. Hence, I have chosen food as a medium to recognise their efforts,” Asma added.
Visiting Jaipur on Wednesday to speak on digital media, she said digital media is changing the future prospects for women.
In the spring of 2019, she was the first British chef to be profiled on the 6th season of the documentary series on Netflix Chef’s Table, a big achievement for an immigrant like her.