Ladies & Gents, Asma Khan

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Por Manuela Rahal

Peço mil desculpas por publicar uma entrevista 100% em inglês, mas nesse caso a tradução ficaria aquém das palavras dessa mulher formidável. Para quem tiver dificuldades, recomendo um cntrl c + cntrl v e google tradutor. Ou corre para o Netflix para assistir o lindo episódio de Chef's Table onde ela é a estrela.

Com vocês, Asma Khan, a segunda filha de uma família indiana, que se reinventou em solo inglês e está à frente de um dos melhores restaurantes indianos do mundo. Carismática, agradável, verdadeira, Asma cozinha com a alma e faz questão de ser e estar próxima de cada pessoa que passa pelo seu salão.

Q. A lot of people heard about your history through Chef's Table episode and talking to them we've realize that it was the episode that most engaged female audience here.  It is an amazing job to see a kitchen made up of foreign women, but I couldn't help but wonder: were there any (or many) barriers?

A. The all female kitchen grew slowly and organically. I think we would have a difficult time convincing the bank to lend us money or a landlord to give us a lease to a prime restaurant property. By the time we were competing with 55 other restaurant owners/chefs to get the lease we were well established as supperclub chefs and had completed a 9 month residency in a soho pub which was 2 minutes walk from kingly court where Darjeeling Express is located. Yes- it’s sad it’s taken so long for an all female kitchen to open a restaurant. I hope more women will see us and get inspired to open their own place. 

Q. You talked a lot about the cultural issue of being the second daughter and how hard it was to reinvent yourself, even though you were born in a family with good conditions. Did you achieve the recognition you wanted when you started, especially in relation with your mom and dad?

A. I have brought honour to my family. Yes I am very happy that my parents are proud of me. 50 years ago when I was born- I do not think anyone in my family thought anything more than getting me married to a suitable boy- that was what my family honour was- to get me married to a good boy.  Today my parents are stopped on the streets in India and abroad as people recognise them and they are asked if they are my parents. It makes them very proud. 

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Q. Did you have help with investments at the beginning of the restaurant or did it on your own?

A. I had two sources of investment. A bank loan from Natwest who provided me a lot of support and a fixed interest rate without making me mortgage my house. The loan was matched by my husband who stepped in when my negotiation with an investor fell through. 

Q. What message would you give to young women who want to start their own business, but are living in countries where culture breeds them?

A. The main thing is to make alliances- make a network with other women. Try to find a female mentor who can guide you- ask for ways of finding funding for your business. Try to present your passion and dream to your family. It is important in the end to have the support of your loved ones as starting a business has many challenges. You need support- emotional and financial to succeed. 

Q. Darjeeling is a huge success, but we can see in the documentary that you are a woman who loves challenges and have a lot of energy. Can you tell us what's next?

A. I turn 50 years old in July and in July I am going to Iraq to set up an all female cafe in a camp for women and girls who escaped ISIS. Many are yazidi and I want to set up food collectives to help empower women around the world who are suffering.

Q. Lastly, have you been to Brazil? Do you have any plans? 

A. Since Netflix I have had a lot of Brazilian coming to eat at the restaurant. They are all so warm and loving and tell me they have limited Indian food in Brazil. Many Brazilian women have also written to me about their family stories- where their brothers were given more love and food. Many second daughters e also written to me. It seems it is not just in India where the birth of a boy is celebrated but the birth of a girl is not. 

Manuela Rahal