The IIHM global campus in Salt Lake hosted a fantastic cooking session with celebrity chef Asma Khan on January 21. Cooking live for over 300 students who logged in from various parts of the world, Khan broke some myths around Indian cooking in her inimitably humorous style! Held in collaboration with the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Young Leaders Forum, the IIHM, and Indo-British Scholars’ Association (IBSA) event saw British deputy high commissioner Nick Low and his wife Karita digging into some scrumptious paneer made by Khan.
Khan, a former lawyer, runs the very popular restaurant in London called Darjeeling Express and she shot to global fame with her appearance on the very popular Netflix show The Chef’s Table. There are very few celebrities who don’t make a point to drop into her restaurant when in the UK and it boasts of a waiting list that run into months often. Her work for women empowerment is stupendous. Her love for Calcutta and her charming ways make her as endearing as she is a great cook.
At the session, she taught the students the best way to make rotis while criticising patrons at restaurants who are led to believe that naan is the best kind of Indian bread available. “We don’t eat naan every day at home, do we? Why would we serve it with every meal?” she demanded! The last year has been tremendously enriching for Khan who would go to Trafalgar Square in London, distributing food from her restaurant for those in need. Suborno Bose, chairman and CEO, IIHM & Indismart Group Worldwide, resonated deeply with the idea of food distribution as his own team has built an enviable network during the pandemic to provide help. “IIHM is more than an institution. It’s an obsession. All our students are called ‘food soldiers’ and they work in various parts of the country, feeding those in need,” he said.
The last year also marked the 50th birthday of chef Khan who decided to do something special, again with the idea of women empowerment on her mind. This time, the destination was northern Iraq where she opened a cafe entirely run by women.
Cooking on an induction plate, she joked, “is like cooking with an electric bulb”. Giving out tips plenty and speaking while cooking, she taught her audience how to brown onions perfectly. “The onion is only done when your entire hair smells of onion and your neighbours know what you are up to,” she exclaimed!
A very intuitive cook, she firmly believes that the only way to be a good cook is to do it your way. She spoke of ‘wheat supremacy’ and how farmers in India were incentivised to grow wheat over maize. The water crisis is born from growing extensive wheat when maize is a far better and healthier option. “Wheat is drying our soils and killing our heritage. The wheat mafia is killing maize,” she said.
Chef Khan shared a few emotional tidbits in the QnA session with the audience. She spoke of the challenges she faced while setting up her restaurant Darjeeling Express in the heart of London after a degree in law. “The restaurant industry is a lot like Bollywood. You would need a godfather to enter into it and that is something I didn’t have,” Khan said.
She also spoke of the proudest moment of her life when her mother walked into her restaurant for the very first time. Learning the art of cooking from watching her mother cook in different kitchens gave her the source of her inspiration. It was also why Calcutta formed such an integral part of her restaurant, said chef who is half-Bengali.
Her work ethos is dictated by the single-minded subject of empowering women. She criticised the overcrowding of space in the food business with people trying molecular gastronomy with Indian food, using recipes that our mothers and grandmothers toiled over, which they were never recognised or compensated for. “I need the stage to be clear so that women can come and rightfully claim it,” said the chef whose kitchen is run by women. She patiently answered all the questions that the students sent her way.
Rajive Kaul, president of IBSA and chairman of Nicco Engineering Services Limited, played host to this evening that had chefs from IIHM joining in. Nick Low and his wife Karita; Suborno Bose and Sanjukta Bose all dug into her wonderful combination of Paneer Korma and roti that Khan effortlessly cooked up.