Flash-grilled: Aida Khan

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Chef Aida Khan of Shola restaurant that serves light and healthy Pakistani cuisine

Related tags: Chef, Pakistani cuisine

Chef Aida Khan brought her Karachi cooking to London’s White City Place development earlier this year with the opening of Shola, which focuses on light and healthy Pakistani cuisine.

What was your first job?
I was an intern at an English newspaper in Karachi. I started working there when I was 15 years old, and worked there for a couple years until University. Definitely great training for building a strong work ethic for life with long hours and deadlines. 

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?  
A proper paratha with tonnes of ghee, cooked the way it should be on the streets of Karachi.

What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
Anything at Okra in Karachi - Incredible Mediterranean food. And Buca Mario in Florence. Their meat is minimalist but with intense charcoal grilled flavours. 

What industry figure do you most admire, and why? 
There are so many industry figures I could name. I would say Anthony Bourdain for how he allowed us all to access world cuisines and his approach to authentic food as part of a culture. David Chang with Momofuko for bringing traditional and modern cuisine to people’s attention. The late Fatima Ali who brought Pakistani food to a new audience on Top Chef. 

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do? 
I would be a food journalist. My world revolves around food! If I was not cooking I would definitely be writing about it, talking about it, exploring the foods of the world. All my travels, and my family holidays are always food based. We don’t necessarily visit a new city only with tourist sites in mind, but instead play a bit of food roulette. My favourite part of planning a holiday is mapping out the food areas and places we need to explore. 

What is your biggest regret?
We all have different regrets at different stages of our lives but perhaps one regret for me was probably not going on with the TV show I did called, “For the Love of Food”, which explored traditional Pakistani foods, and cooking methods from all over Pakistan. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have been fortunate enough to take part in. You really learn a lot about people when you explore their cuisine with them. The programme taught me so much about the depths of Pakistani cuisine, and has really had a huge influence on my cooking and my understanding of flavours. We went to villages I would not have otherwise visited, and learnt the traditional ways of cooking you can’t get from a textbook or on the internet! Such as roasting an entire fish underground in a pit. 

Pet hate in the kitchen?
Short cuts that compromise on flavour. 

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
Once we were creating healthy food boxes, which focused on portion and calorie control, I had one customer complain it wasn’t enough food and they definitely wanted a fried Paratha on the side…

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
A Kimchi Toastie! This amazing Danish cafe called Hjem in London serve the best kimchi toastie I have ever had! The flavours just smack you in the face - I literally can’t resist it. It’s such a go-to with the rest of the family as well.

Describe your cooking style in three words:
“Made with love.” My passion for cooking and SHOLA, have really been inspired by my family. I love to cook for them - cooking is such an important factor in our lives. I wanted to give my family, and others, a space in London where they can feel at home, and enjoy the traditional flavours of Pakistan which I grew up on.

Most overrated food?
Expensive food that still leaves you hungry….

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you do/ban?
Bad service, and grumpy staff.

If you could cook for anyone in the world who would you pick, and why?
Ellen DeGeneres. I would love to cook for her and just hang out! She’s absolutely hilarious and just an amazing soul.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Don’t take it personally. Everyone has their own palate. Be true to the flavours you believe in. Be authentic, and be you.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
A heavy based pan to roast all my spices on.

What do you cook at home on your days off?
Usually I try not to cook on my days off :) But when I do, it’s either a recipe I have been wanting to try out or something my kids love. My husband is really into cooking as well and his daily breakfast creations are quite legendary with our children placing their “orders” at bedtime! 

What’s your earliest food memory? 
Waiting for my mum’s Khara Masala Qeema to be ready. I still remember the scent wafting through the kitchen as I would wait patiently for the beef to slow cook. It’s on our menu at SHOLA and one of my absolute favourites! 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Expect the worst, hope for the best.” From my father. Definitely been super handy to keep that in mind through many moments in life. 

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
Anywhere with friends catching up over a meal and drinks. 

Tipple of choice?
Depends on the kind of day I have had.

Related topics: People

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