Chef to the stars, Saima Khan serves up homecoming feast in Pakistan

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Celebrity chef Saima Khan’s signature Persian slow-cooked lamb, a version of which was served in Lahore with meat donated by local butchers. (AN photo by Saima Khan)
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Celebrity chef Saima Khan’s signature Persian slow-cooked lamb, a version of which was served in Lahore with meat donated by local butchers. (AN photo by Saima Khan)
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Updated 23 January 2020

Chef to the stars, Saima Khan serves up homecoming feast in Pakistan

  • For Khan it has been a homecoming years in the making

LAHORE: Chef Saima Khan has cooked for billionaires, Hollywood’s A-list, royalty and US presidents. But, until earlier this week, she had never served up a feast or run a restaurant in Pakistan, where her parents were born.

The charity fundraising dinner in Lahore, at a new pop-up restaurant called Fred, attracted tycoons, artists, actors and philanthropists. Mezze dips, ruby red pomegranates and other delights adorned the tables. Guests tucked into dishes with their hands, laughing and chatting as they ate. There were no courses and no waiters. Khan chose black jeans, sneakers and an apron over a chef’s hat and white jacket.

For Khan it has been a homecoming years in the making.

She was born and raised in London, spending two decades as a commodities broker and investment banker although she was always a creative cook and warm host to friends.

But it was a chance meeting in 2012 with billionaire Warren Buffett in a Nebraska airport lounge that changed the course of her life.

“Our conversation turned to relationships, the meaning of life ... and food. I told him I made a mean chicken karahi he should try. He told me he’d take me up on the offer,” Khan said, not thinking the “Sage of Omaha” was being serious. But she would come to know him as one of her dearest friends and mentors. 

Two weeks later she got a call from Buffett’s secretary, asking to set up a time for the home-cooked dinner she had offered in that remote airport lounge.

“It was bizarre. My first thought was ... somebody is joking with me. But I hadn’t told a soul I’d met Warren except for my parents.”

On the day of the dinner, in her small New York City apartment, Khan worked alone, preparing chapati dough, daal, chicken karahi, achari gosht, chicken biryani and other Pakistani staples.

Out came old Pakistani table runners, napkins and fabrics. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan played in the background. And then she received another phone call.

This time it was Buffett himself, asking if he could bring some friends. Khan joked that he could bring whoever he liked because she had cooked enough for 20 people. 

But she was surprised to later see Bill and Melinda Gates smiling at her doorway.

At one point in the evening Bill sauntered into Khan’s tiny kitchen and asked for butter with his chapati. “You realize after a while, it doesn’t matter who they are. People are just people in the end ... and there’s nothing like good food to truly connect with them.”

She was breaking bread around the table with four of the world’s richest people, while at the same time opening doors to a new life.

Buffet asked if she would consider catering a dinner for 20 people a month later at his Palo Alto home. She agreed.

She saw some very familiar faces that May evening when she stepped into the room to meet the guests she had cooked a Pakistani feast for the Obamas, the Clintons, the Zuckerbergs, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Ariana Huffington among others.

Since then, as founder and chef with her London-based catering company The Hampstead Kitchen, Khan has cooked for heads of state, celebrities and royals. Her firms employs almost 100 people.

Everyone on the payroll is either a former refugee, a former convict or formerly homeless men and women. Almost 70 percent of all business proceeds go to charities around the world.

In Pakistan she supports charities and runs three free schools built on land from her father’s village near Gujranwala, a city north of Lahore known for its wrestlers and food.

She has been a private chef for the royal families of Qatar and Europe, dishing up her creations in palaces around the world, in the White House, on private jets and at celebrity weddings. 

But her food and feasts have the same ethos wherever they are served and whoever they are prepared for.

In Lahore she told her guests how proud she was of her Punjabi heritage and of its culinary culture where people regularly ate from a single plate.

She cooks food from cultures where sharing is encouraged and loved - Middle Eastern, Persian, Scandinavia and Nordic. “That’s what sharing a meal is all about,” she said. “It’s about peace, love and kindness.”


Missing your salon? How to care for your hair while you #StayHome

We speak to a hair expert on the dos and don’ts of at-home hair care. (File/Instagram)
Updated 2 min 12 sec ago

Missing your salon? How to care for your hair while you #StayHome

DUBAI: As salon-goers face the closure of spas, salons and barbershops, we speak to Haneen Odeh, owner of UAE’s Snob salon for her take on the dos and don’ts of at-home hair care.

Many men and women who rely on salon visits to keep their lengths healthy could be left wondering what to do between now and their next visit to a professional hair stylist. But just as important is what not to do (read: DIY trim job) to avoid ruining your hair and having to impose your own personal period of self-isolation once the pandemic is over due to a ruined haircut you tried to pull off in the bathroom mirror.

Don’t bleach your own hair
“For those who usually go to the salon to dye their lengths blonde, roots may be starting to show now. And while it might be tempting, I would strongly urge to not bleach your own roots. Lightening dark hair is a very complex multi-step process that requires years of experience and professional grade products only available at salons. Bleaching your hair incorrectly might result in burning and damaging your hair. Instead, opt for a root spray such as the L'Oreal Paris Magic Root Cover Up Concealer Spray. Otherwise, you can always conceal your dark roots with a headband or try wrapping your hair up with a scarf.” 

Do deep conditioning treatments
“Use this time to nourish your hair with a deep conditioning treatment. A lot of people simply apply it in the shower on wet hair for a few minutes and call it a day, but that way means that your lengths aren’t getting the full benefits of the product. Think of hair like a sponge, when it’s wet, it’s already full of water and cannot absorb anything more. So to make sure the product is fully absorbed into your locks, towel dry your hair after shampooing and then apply the treatment. Leave it on for 15-20 minutes and then rinse. You’ll see a huge difference.” May we suggest The Let It Go Circle hair mask from Davines, which is designed to boost hydration and revitalize dry and brittle strands?  

Don’t pick up the scissors
“When you’re bored, it might be tempting to pick up the scissors but, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t trim your own bangs or make any big changes to your hair cut on your own. It will inevitably go wrong and you will end up paying more to get it fixed in the long run. Try out some new hairstyles instead. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube so experiment a little and get your hair professionally cut once it’s safe to do so.”

 Don’t over wash
“The more you wash your strands, the more you strip the scalp of its natural oils, and that in turn makes the scalp produce even more oil, which causes you to wash your hair more often — and the cycle goes on and on. Now is the perfect opportunity to give your lengths a break and cut down on the washing. Your hair might get oily, but once the adjustment period is over, you will notice that it will require less frequent washing.”

Do try scalp treatments
“Too often, we pay attention to the lengths of our hair and give our scalp no attention. But caring for your scalp improves the overall health of your tresses, stimulates hair growth and gets rid of dandruff due to product buildup. Scalp treatments range from serums to salt scrubs, so pick a product that suits your hair needs. Le Labo's basil-scented Scrub Shampoo uses black sea salt and menthol to clear away dirt and cool scalps down.”