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CHATTERBOX DELI

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“This is a value that has been inculcated throughout the company that whatever you give to the customer has to be tried and tested and then supplied. So there is no compromise with the quality, or the ingredients we use.”

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Face to face with International Chef and Co-Founder of SHOLA Karachi Kitchen – Aida Khan

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Aida Khan, the entrepreneur and chef behind Islamabad’s traditional cuisine destination, Karachi Kitchen, proudly extended her culinary prowess by introducing her establishment: SHOLA Karachi Kitchen, in the heart of West London, White City, positioned where the BBC used to be.

Aida Khan has already been serving her Karachi offerings in Supper Clubs in London and in March 2019, opened her first restaurant SHOLA Karachi Kitchen in West London. With her first restaurant in London, Khan aims to explore the real flavours of Pakistan laden in tradition. Aida Khan’s nostalgia for Karachi’s bustling food markets with authentic flavorful food was an inspiration for SHOLA’s first permanent residence in White City. Aida also hopes to shed light on how Pakistani food can be clean and healthy – appealing to vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters. With the menu comprising of 50% grilled food, SHOLA takes one back to the foundations of Pakistani cooking. 

With SHOLA Karachi Kitchen, Aida Khan aims to bring back the era of simple, clean cooking, the way it has been done in the sub-continent’s family kitchens for centuries. At SHOLA Karachi Kitchen, Khan and her team of expert chefs use only the highest quality ingredients and traditional cooking techniques.

In Pakistan, currently offering takeaway home-deliveries primarily in Islamabad, SHOLA embraces hearty, artisanal traditional soul food combining the traditional flavours, aromas and authentic spices of Karachi.

Aida comes from a family with a deep passion for food. From an early age, she learnt how to cook traditional family food from her mother, and inherited her love for food through her father’s passion to eat.  Her fondest childhood memories are of early morning drives to Karachi markets with her father, in search of the fluffiest poori or the sweetest halwa for breakfast. Since moving to London, traditional Pakistani family recipes play an integral part at home, whether its cooking with her boys, or feeding the tribes of friends and extended family who turn up to feast on her delicious meals. Bringing Pakistani food back into people’s lives, and through SHOLA, putting Pakistani cuisine on the London food map, Khan hopes to open more branches of SHOLA across the globe and more specifically, in Pakistan.

SHOLA Karachi Kitchen is located at Shop 9-12, Trade Centre, F-7, Jinnah Super in Islamabad for takeaway and delivery. In London, the restaurant is located at Unit 6, West Works, White City Place, Wood Lane. 

Aida Khan speaks exclusively to Daily Paperazzi about her passion project.

How did your journey begin to eventually become a seasoned chef? 

I moved to London about 9 years ago to do my MSc. at SOAS. My son was 2 years old then and I couldn’t help but notice a lack of authentic Pakistani restaurants we could eat at or order in from, when that desi food craving hit. I inevitably ended up cooking a lot more at home and hosting many evenings for friends looking for a taste of home and finally decided to take it on as full on task to bring our food to London. I started out by hosting supper clubs and eventually expanded to catering events and then the opportunity came up to open Shola so I finally took the plunge! 

What was your first big break?

I had done various caterings and private events but my first big break was when I hosted a Gourmet Karachi Supper Club at a private members’ club in London. It was sold out instantly with 60 people attending, I definitely had a lot of nerves that day but also realized that this is absolutely something I want to pursue. 

Did you go to culinary school? What credentials did you earn through your culinary studies?

I did an Essential Cookery Certification at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, which is a professional course aimed towards people who want to develop their cooking skills and learn the techniques and science behind how ingredients work. Each class was very hands-on and you had to produce a selection of dishes. Apart from cooking skills, the course also helped with time management and being able to plan and execute a well-rounded menu. We also learnt menu costing/pricing and essentially how to make the best of your budget and ingredients. It was a spectacular experience and despite my many years of cooking it has given me the right tools to feel more confident cooking in a professional environment. It also taught me how to handle large orders and get service right. 

SHOLA Karachi Kitchen has greatly added to the culinary map of London. Why did you choose to serve Pakistani cuisine over others? 

Because that’s what I feel I know best. I can bring authenticity to the food offering based on personal experiences. It’s also one of my favorite cuisines and I felt it was under represented in London. 

Currently, the Karachi Kitchen’s chapter in Islamabad is take-away & delivery only. Can we expect a dine-in restaurant in future?

For now, this works but never say never is something I learnt early on. 

What’s your biggest nightmare to date?

Sending food out that is below standard just because it was not tasted. 

What do you do to stay current on new trends? Describe two or three of the most interesting industry trends?

I follow various blogs and read up a lot on Chefs. I am fascinated with the science behind cooking and love looking at different techniques to ensure consistent flavors. As our food is really traditional I have actually found myself going back to using methods the way they were down in our grandparents’ kitchens. A pestle and mortar are incredibly essential in my kitchen just because there is an unparalleled depth of flavor that can be achieved with the masalas ground in one. I am also a huge advocate of low and slow cooking for even flavors. 

What inspires you in the kitchen?

Creating delicious food that is reminiscent of flavors from my childhood. When you get that nostalgic feeling as soon as you taste a dish – that to me is winning. 

What is your favorite meal to cook?

It really depends on the day. At the restaurant I love creating a Karahi or Biryani. Both have such interesting techniques. At home, I love trying out different marinades with grilled fish. Tahini and Harissa are a firm favorite in my repertoire these days.

Do you have a favorite ingredient?

I love using curry leaves. Maybe it’s my mother’s Hyderabadi influence but the scent of curry leaves frying literally takes me back home every time. 

If you could cook for anyone, who would it be?

My father – sadly he passed away many years ago, before I had ever even thought of taking this on as a career. He would be my toughest critic yet strongest advocate. He was a huge foodie so the feedback would have been genuine ☺ 

In your opinion, what are the biggest misconceptions about chefs in Pakistani context?

That it’s all one pot cooking and we have some sort of mother sauce that we throw everything in. Pakistani cooking is incredibly complex and we have so many steps and flavors involved, when done right.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Happy. Doing what I love to do with just a little more time for holidays.

Any advice you would give to someone wanting to become a chef?  

You really need to want to do this to make it work. It’s not something you can go into halfhearted. You also need to believe in yourself, there will always be criticism and there will always be praise. Learn how to filter both in such a way that it’s always productive. Trust yourself and your palate. 

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Food

Your one-stop Sehri-Iftari guide featuring the hottest eateries in town

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We rounded up our top picks for best eateries you need to try for Iftaar and Suhoor this Ramzan!

By Iman Hashmi

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Events

Suhoor with Burning Giraffe

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Sumrina Khan and Hassan Agha came together to host a splendid evening for us this past week. All the girls were dressed in gorgeous Cross Stitch outfits and fed till our tummies were full. The food, the ambiance and the wonderful company made this Sehri one to remember!

Tajwar Chaudhry, Sumrina Khan, Salina Khan and Daneese Ali
Team Burning Giraffe – Hassan Agha, Sahar Noon and Agha Najeeb
Publicist Shireen Rehman and Creative head, Cross Stitch – Mishal Asad

Sehri in full swing

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