'Every hurdle I fell on I moved that hurdle for the women coming after me'

The  Staff Canteen

In a recent Channel 4 interview, Asma Khan discussed how much women are discriminated against in the hospitality industry

Asma Khan sat down with Krishnan Guru-Murthy to discuss her new cookbook, her restaurant the Darjeeling Express, and the issues with Racism in the hospitality industry.

During the interview, she discussed her past and how she got to where she is now, especially all the difficulties that stood in her way.

Asma explained how at first she was really unsuccessful with cooking and in hospitality and that she literally couldn't give away free tasters at her pop-up but that changed when Faye Maschler a food critic at the Evening Standard tried her food.

But even after that things didn't become easy. She talked about how being a woman and especially being a woman of colour made it so much harder for her to not only make a start in the industry but build on from that.

Discrimination in hospitality

She said: "I would describe hospitality as an all-white Mayfair men-only club. Women are invited as guests. They're not powerful, they are on the fringes and I am the only one who writes in articles - where there's a risk of me being sued by these very thin-skinned male chefs - I talk about what's happening, the bullying and I speak about the discrimination and racism.

"Racism absolutely permeates this entire system."

Along with that, Asma discussed how so much of the hospitality industry is built on networks and networking and with her being a Muslim woman who doesn't drink, it is much harder for her to get into those networks.

She said:  "How do I network if I'm not going to a football match with you, if I'm not going to the pub with you?

"If I don't have those symbolisms and I cannot connect, how am I going to win. It is really, really, really bad and no one talks about it out of fear of being seen as a troublemaker."

Even today with Asma being a well-known figure in the industry she still sees racism even in her own restaurant as she discussed an incident where an Asian Indian family weren't happy with having a black waitress. She was able to defuse the situation and call the family out for their actions.

About the situation, Asma said: "If you don't call it out and you don't stand up for it, where is race mentioned?Where is gender being mentioned in hospitality? Why am I the only one who talks about it? You think that I'm the only one who's seeing discrimination?"

When it comes to the networks in hospitality Asma said: "You are an outsider and either you suck it up and you join this group because you want to be successful or you're the heckler outside.

"I'm the heckler, the fact that I've managed to get where I have, I'm just bloody lucky. I could have just been sunk by all of them. "


Moving the restaurant and Discrimination

With the recent difficulties Asma has had with finding a new location for her restaurant, it would seem like incredibly bad luck however Asma sees this as yet more proof of the discrimination in the industry.

She said: "People see me as a threat. It's not just that I don't have deep enough pockets. People would prefer to give it to a chain or to some fancy investor coming from abroad." 

She describes how it was clear that people thought of her and her restaurant as a risky investment even more than a foreign investor or someone with a lot less experience in the industry.

Asma said: "Still the idea that you're seen as weaker, as less reliable as a female - a female of colour is staggering. But, the problem is, these prejudices are so deep-rooted and if you question them they'll say 'oh I don't think like that'. Of course you do, why are you self-selecting? The problem with hospitality is the self-selection."

However, despite all of these issues that Asma has had in her career she described her drive as almost like she couldn't give up when she said: "Every hurdle I fell on I moved that hurdle for [the women coming after me] and this is what drives me.

"The thorns, the blood, my blood is for a purpose. It is to leave that road clear for others and this is how I can get up every day and go into work. The push back, the doors being closed on me still happen. Imagine what is happening to other women and this is why I can't walk away."

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th July 2022

'Every hurdle I fell on I moved that hurdle for the women coming after me'