Asma Khan: ‘I want everyone to know that I can’t eat my food if I don’t take it’


Asma Khan rarely attended her speech at the Santa Fe Literary Festival. The decorated chef and cookbook writer opened a cafe in Iraq’s Yazidi refugee camp in 2019 to educate girls sold into slavery by ISIS. It was an unusual attempt for a chef who recently appeared on a Netflix series. chef’s table He opened his own restaurant in central London. “I asked a volunteer for the cook and the only girl who raised her hand was a girl who stuttered a lot,” Khan said at a tea and conversation event in New Mexico. “She was 19 and later found out that she could speak her, but because she was the only maiden in her town. [Isis members] — And she lost her ability to speak.” A teenage girl who found meaning while Khan trained briefly and worked in a cafe never left her mind.

How does such a worthy thing lead to an immigration nightmare? When Khan was initially preparing to leave for a festival in Santa Fe, he was surprised to hear that he was not allowed to enter the United States. Because she traveled to Iraq, she was automatically rejected without any nuanced China discussion. “I thought the rules would have changed after Trump, but no,” she said. It was thanks to the hard work of her numerous festival delegates and her willingness to jump on every plane she could that she was able to arrive in New Mexico this week. She said it was an ordeal, but not entirely surprising. “Immigrating with a name like mine is always challenging,” she said. Even if you have a British passport, in England.”

A proud Muslim woman born in India before moving to the UK in 1991, Khan is currently the world’s only female entrepreneurial chef. She’s honest about what that actually means. When she looked for a larger location for an already hugely successful restaurant, she was asked repeatedly. “Do you have business advisors? Who has money?” And it was her fandom and the failure of many male-owned businesses that ultimately allowed her to move to the famous location of Covent Garden. Now she’s back on the market to reclaim space and “suddenly I’ve noticed that people are more hesitant because the pandemic is over,” she says.

Asuma Khan (Urszula Soltys/PA)

Nonetheless, Khan believes that his outsider position has several distinct advantages. “I’m not invited to iftar on Downing Street, nor to events with sophisticated and elite people, but I rattle every cage I can,” she says. “…the hospitality everyone knows at that boys’ club, I owe nothing to anyone. I am free.”

She is not afraid to talk about difficult issues and enjoys that freedom. “I am very political,” she said without an apology. “As an immigrant, I want everyone to know that you can’t take my clothes, you can’t eat my food, and you can’t have my culture if you don’t take me. British People Saying ‘Go Home’ to People Like Me – What have you been doing in your country for 200 years? and here [in the US]They want to stop the Mexicans, but everyone wants tacos!”

Khan doesn’t like the term “cultural appropriation” because he believes there is great power and connection in sharing cultural artifacts. But she still has biryani or a cup of tea. “As a Muslim immigrant, this [cookbook] It’s a conversation with the first country,” she says. “This is the bridge I’m making.” She wants people to enjoy her food and at the same time have subtle conversations about its historical context.

Khan uses the same verbal scalpel he uses for political commentary to dismantle his past. She was the first college-educated woman in the Indian royal family who, like her grandmother, expected to be “married at 18 and grandmother at 32”. But she said, “I didn’t look pretty. “I was fat and ugly. My family had to send me to college because I had no intention of getting married at 18. The image of a ‘nice princess’ didn’t fit,” she said. She obtained a law doctorate and moved to England to switch to cooking after her marriage. .”)

People tried to tell her that cooking led her nowhere, but Khan never doubted that her own success was inevitable. She regularly describes herself in front of her mirror, detailing what she said, “I never feared that I would not be successful. Now she is extremely aware of her own privileges and has decided to lower her elevator again. “I want to be on the right side of history,” she says. She said, “Silent helps the oppressor, so I will not be silent.” She is often comfortable with her own appearance in a world where she looks like her weirdo. “I’m a Muslim, I don’t drink, I wear traditional clothes.” “I want you to hear me say this in a voice with an accent.” She details her own business acumen, and sometimes shows that simply speaking itself is a form of rebellion.

Khan wrote the cookbook “like a salam to my grandmother and great-grandmother before me,” she says, but she wrote it for her mother above all else. Her mother said, “He never said he loved me, never said he thought I was special, but he used to feed me and watch me eat, and now I understand that love.” When she caused unreasonable trouble at school or when her brother lost a soccer game, their mother went to the kitchen and made biryani. As Khan describes the moment she gifted her cookbook to her mother, something completely unexpected happened. “She took this book and bowed her head. Now, as Muslims, we have learned that you do not bow down to anyone. That is, bowing down only to God. But she bowed down to me and said, ‘You have honored this family.’”

Paul Rudd with Asma Khan during a visit to Darjeeling Express

(Asuma Khan)

These days, Khan is enjoying undeniable success. “Today, you cannot ignore me.” Her restaurant, Darjeeling Express, is on almost every Londoner’s must-go list, tables are almost impossible to find, and Danny DeVito is a famous fan of hers. Photos of Dan Levy and Paul Rudd at the restaurant went viral last year. But Khan never sits on her laurel wreath. When the Darjeeling Express is closed on Sundays, she offers free use of her premises to aspiring female chefs. And she wants to emphasize that her success doesn’t come overnight. “I lost more time than you can imagine,” she said. But none of you saw me when I failed. The door closed behind me.”

These days, Khan thinks she “is there to remind you that other people who look different from you”. She leaves Santa Fe’s room with her last thoughts. No matter what area of ​​your life you are successful in, “recognize your privileges and reach out to people you can’t be yet.”

The event’s international media partner, the Independent, reports daily throughout the festival with exclusive interviews with headline writers. For more information about the festival, please visit: Santa Fe Literature Festival Section or visit festival website.

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