Darjeeling Express's head chef Asma Khan first came to the United Kingdom from India not knowing how to cook at all. For two years, she stuck to bland salads and her husband's specialty dish, "a terrible chicken curry" while yearning for her mother's handmade dishes.
When she travelled back to India, Asma was intent on learning those recipes, passed down from generations before, that she used to watch her mother make but never truly learned. Even though she was always interested in food, when growing up, she never cooked; she only observed.
Asma explains that her childhood kitchen used to have 20 cooks. She never needed to learn. Yet unusually, Asma remarks, her mother still cooked and even had a catering company. Asma credits the success of her new restaurant Darjeeling Express and her career in England to the observations of her mother's business.
Sitting in a booth near the kitchen at Darjeeling Express, with the rain pounding down outside on a stereotypical London Sunday, Asma's mother is beaming with pride seeing how full the restaurant is even at half past 3 in the afternoon. The same recipes that she cooked for Asma are now being served by Asma to all types of people in Kingly Court on Carnaby Street. Asma comes over when the rush finally calms down. The similarity in their faces are obvious.
Opening Darjeeling Express was a huge leap, but Asma has thrived and it's because, she says, "You don't realize how much you learn by observation and how to deal with challenges." Growing up Asma' watched her mother deftly orchestrate weddings and other huge-scale events. Crisis management was just an ordinary task in her mother's hospitality business. And Asma unknowingly picked up the ethos of how to manage a business and make it your family.
Now head chef and owner of this busy Indian restaurant in the heart of Soho, Asma looks at her mother with love, "I've been able to overcome hurdles because there is no burden too heavy, especially with all my support."
Come up to the third floor of Kingly Court, tucked away on Carnaby Street (between Piccadilly and Oxford Circus stations, to share the royal Indian cuisine, steeped in this love.