Asma Khan talks about being the first UK chef on Netflix’s ‘Chef’s Table’

The Staff Canteen


Asma Khan is the chef-owner of Darjeeling Express in London.

She has been named as the first UK chef for the forthcoming, series 6 of Netflix’s ‘Chef’s Table’ which will air in 2019 and is the chef at the Supper Club turned acclaimed restaurant - Darjeeling Express.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Asma about why she wanted to take part in the show, how it felt to travel to her hometown of Chhatari and why she considers herself an ‘accidental chef’.

WIN a copy of Asma Khan's Indian Kitchen


How to enter

We have three signed copies of Asma's Indian Kitchen. To be in with a chance of winning, simply comment on this article 'I'm in it to win it'

Closing date is Friday, November 9th at 5 pm - any entries received after this time will not be valid.

One entry per member.

*Full terms and conditions

After receiving an email to take part in Netflix’s ‘Chef’s Table’, chef Asma Khan  initially thought that this was a dodgy ‘phishing email’. She admits that she was not wearing her glasses when she opened the email from Brian McGinn, the executive producer and director. It took her a few re-reads to convince her that this was indeed ‘the real deal’. 

Chapter Opener1
Food that is made by home cooks
at Asma's restaurant

She said: “After the first lines, where he said they loved my story and wanted to feature me in the series, I didn’t continue reading the email as I was scared I’d got it wrong – thinking it was just one of those 'dearly beloved you have won the lottery and I need your bank account details to transfer you the money', with a new style of writing!

"It took me a while to go back to reading the email again- and I was so thrilled that it was real (I googled the person who had written to me!) I called Brian McGinn from a car park as I had no network where I was, and he was absolutely wonderful and had done his research as he knew everything about me!”

It still didn’t feel real to Asma until filming began and she was hosting the Chef’s Table crew in her restaurant who were ‘changing all the light bulbs and moving all the restaurant furniture to the roof!’.

Each series of Chef’s Table has a theme and the theme for this series is ‘Journey Home’. 

“In my cookbook, I explain why cooking the food of my family made me complete," explained Asma. "My first winter in Cambridge I was so cold (I had never seen a tree where the leaves had fallen!) and I was constantly hungry. I felt hollow, rootless and very lonely. I knew the only way this new land I was living in would become a home for me was if I could cook the dishes my mother made for me.

Macher Malaikari
Macher Malaikari

"I needed my kitchen and home to be infused with the aromas of spices. I cannot give the details of what we filmed – we did one-week filming in London, at the restaurant and in the city and one week in India including my parents’ home in Aligarh and my ancestral fortress in Chhatari.”

Filming in Chhatari was an emotional experience and Asma admits that she wept when her great aunt said 'you have put Chhatari on the map and bought honour to your clan'. This was particularly significant for Asma as it demonstrated that there has been a shift from a traditional patriarchal focus. 

She explained: “Bringing honour” is a term that is usually used for boys. My entire clan gathered around me for the filming and were so thrilled for me – my sibling flew down for the filming and that made the entire episode complete for me; having my brother and sister with me in India.”

Talking of gender shifts, Chef’s Table has historically been very male-dominated, Asma explains 'it is significant that season 5 and 6 finally has a gender balance and has women of colour'.

She said: "It is important to have a balance – especially for us in hospitality where we are struggling for staff."

She added: "Chef’s Table has a big following and I am hoping young women who may have been put off from applying to restaurants for a job will see these women-focused episodes and see women they can relate to and know that the restaurant kitchen is where they can belong, thrive and flourish. I hope we can see more women – not just chefs in white coats but home cooks cooking on television.”

Darjeeling Express is renowned for having an all-female staff although Asma admits that 'it just happened that way'. Her staff have worked with her in some way, shape or form over the last 10 years. From helping at her supper-clubs at home to pop-ups in the pub and now in the restaurant. 

Chukander Raita
Chukander Raita

“We are all untrained home cooks," said Asma. "We have our own rhythm. Since opening the restaurant, we have had to recruit more people. We cook as families do for a big festival or a wedding – there is no hierarchy in the kitchen. The women start work and do what they know is their speciality – it is all unspoken."

Asma’s restaurant Darjeeling Express emerged from a supper club and she says the transition from a supper club to a restaurant was 'not too traumatic'. She admits she is ‘learning every day’ but this is one of the most exciting parts of being a restauranteur. 

She said: “Just when you 'fix' one thing, something else starts to wobble! I am loving the challenges and the triumphs. My favourite moment was seating my parents in my restaurant and taking their lunch order. I saw the tears of joy in their eyes – my best moment.”

Moving to England proved to be pivotal for Asma who admits that she wanted to learn to cook to start friendships. She particularly takes pride in cooking 1930s Royal Nawabi and Mughal cuisine.

She said: “Inviting someone to eat at your home, was the first step to starting a friendship, in my family tradition.

"So, I initially cooked for myself and to make new friends and I do not think I ever wanted to become a chef – I am an accidental chef!”

By Emma Harrison


Extract credit to Asma’s Indian Kitchen: Home-cooked food brought to you by Darjeeling Express by Asma Khan, published by Pavilion Books. Recipe image credit to Kim Lightbody.

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd November 2018

Asma Khan talks about being the first UK chef on Netflix’s ‘Chef’s Table’