Khan: We need to end the military culture in kitchens

Chef Asma Khan believes there needs to be a radical shake up of how kitchens are run, with an end put to the military culture of long hours and scant regard to mental health.

Asma Khan would like to see an end to the military culture playing out in restaurant kitchens around the world

Speaking exclusively to db, Khan said: “We have a very flexible working pattern but in other restaurants it’s like being part of the military, it’s such a macho environment, people are working 16 hours a day and not seeing daylight.

“You’re not in battle, this isn’t an endurance test. Chefs need to have balance in their lives in order to produce their best. It’s crazy the hours restaurants expect chefs to do, what kind of a life can they have, it’s destructive to their mental health.

“Service and being hospitable are the two most important things in the hospitality industry, and you can’t give your best if you’re running on empty.

Khan has an all-female chef team at Darjeeling Express in Covent Garden

“We need to invest in their quality of life, there’s no point sucking everything out of your staff, it’s extremely destructive and bad for business. You need to treat chefs with respect and give them space to develop as human beings.”

Khan feels that women within the on-trade have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in terms of staff lay-offs.

“Most of the sommeliers who have lost their jobs are women. The decision makers in the industry are usually men and they’ve gone into survival mode at the moment,” she said.

Khan employs an all-female chef team and the wine list at her new Darjeeling Express site in Covent Garden has been curated by Vidya Narasimhan and Nandini Sur with a focus on women winemakers.

She would like to see women better represented in the food and wine industries. “We all need to think outside the box – we need men to move aside and give women space on the table so our voices count and we can be the voice of other women who are coming up behind us,” Khan told db.

She would also like to see Michelin-starred female chefs using their positions of power and influence to incite positive change within the industry.

“I find it unacceptable that top female chefs in our industry have kept quiet and closed ranks when it comes to calling out abuse. They see themselves as chefs first. I disagree – you’re a women first, so you should stand up, raise your voice, and use your platform.

“Why are they not calling this abuse out when it’s endemic in our industry? We need to break the chains for the ones coming after us so they can live a life of equality and freedom.

“Other people have fought for the freedom we enjoy today. This is a legacy we can leave, which is far more powerful than a title; that’s temporary.”

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