Ex-banker swaps shares for sharing plates as private chef at Hampstead Kitchen
- Credit: Archant
Saima Khan tells Bridget Galton why she ditched a six figure salary to cook her Middle Eastern inspired dishes for the Hampstead crowd.
Laced with rose petals, pomegranate seeds and middle-Eastern flavours, Saima Khan’s food is as pretty as a picture and just as delicious.
The West Hampstead resident ditched a six figure salary and a career in banking to found her catering business.
American magnate Warren Buffett himself helped with The Hampstead Kitchen’s business plan.
Operating from an industrial kitchen in West Hampstead with 75 full and part time staff, Khan caters for everything from intimate dinner parties, to cooking for film stars, heads of state, CEOs and Middle Eastern royal families.
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“The kind of clients who want you to be discreet and respect their privacy”.
With an approachable, not too formal style, her signature dishes such as a ‘magic dip,’ sea bass with smoked paprika and dill, and 24-hour braised lamb, are often best shared.
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“A key part of how we enjoy food is it’s presentation. For me the food is the focus but as well as the taste it’s the way I serve it.”
Khan finds the Hampstead crowd, who make up 70 percent of her business, “discerning, cultured and well travelled.”
“They hold amazing parties, have a good palate and don’t want bog standard catering.”
Khan’s sharing concept works well for family get togethers, 50th birthdays and weddings, but she’ll tailor her menu to suit the client.
It’s very different from her previous life as an investment banker in Tokyo, New York and Zurich.
“Post 2008 I was very busy working in financial risk and strategy, I wasn’t one of those bankers you read about who hate their job. I loved mine. I was far from home and used to cook regularly just for fun for friends.”
Then an aunt called in a panic to say a friend had been let down by a caterer and could she help. Khan stepped in, enjoyed it and was soon doing more.
“I was in New York, working in the evening, flying all over the place for clients. There’s never a right time to start a business. I just did it.”
She credits Yotam Ottolenghi with helping to popularise the Middle Eastern cuisine she loves. Although she is of Pakistani heritage, she recalls her grandmother cooking with the rose petals she now loves to use.
“I was brought up in a culture that shared food. Mum was a very good, fast cook, it wasn’t unusual to have 40 people in our house and I subconsciously picked it up.
“My parents arrived in the 60s part of that generation who came to give their kids a better future. Education was the key so she never taught me how to cook and can’t figure it out why I do it now.
“but getting a good education gives you choice.”
Khan now brings her financial acumen to running a successful business but says her life isn’t defined by money.
“Hampstead Kitchen isn’t just a job, it’s something I do with all my heart, making a meal in someone’s house, cooking for someone is like giving a gift. If they really love it, there’s such joy in making people happy. It’s the best thing in the world.”
This is a hit with everyone. Great as a mezze dip, or an accompaniment with chicken, lamb and fish
I small white onion
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
600g of fresh spinach
500g greek yogurt
1 teaspoon cumin - freshly ground
1 teaspoon salt
Half a bunch of fresh dill
Dried rose petals & dill to garnish
Steam the spinach for 2 minutes, leave to cool
Saute the onions in a frying pan, until translucent
Add the garlic to infuse for one minute
Add the onions & garlic to the yogurt, add the salt, cumin and mix well. Squeeze the water from the spinach, and chop into chunks
Add the spinach and chopped dill to the yogurt
Transfer to a dish and sprinkle the rose petals, chopped dill and a drizzle of olive oil.
Serve with warm Iranian Lavash bread
Signature Lamb Dish
Marinate for 24-36 hours or if you can’t wait that long, add more lemon juice to accelerate the marinating process
1.5 kg to 2kg of boneless lamb or leg of Lamb
1 cup of olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
8 cloves crushed in a pestle & mortar
6 cloves of garlic crushed
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses
3 teaspoon salt flakes
Combine the above and smother all over the lamb.
Cover and leave in the fridge
Once ready to cook, char-grill in a hot griddle or put the oven (Gas Mark 200) really high for 15 each side.
Cover with foil and slow cook for 4 hours on a medium heat ( Gas mark 180)
After 2 hrs add 1 cm of boiling water and cover tightly with foil to keep the meat juicy.
When cooked, the meat should come away quickly, or if you are doing boneless lamb, should melt in the mouth
Scatter pomegranate seeds, fresh torn mint & toasted pine nuts and serve with rice, minted potatoes or char-grilled red onions.