Lucinda “Luci” Khan has been cooking alongside her father, chef Opel Khan, owner of Potts Point fine diner Metisse and the more casual Pizza Boccone, since she was a kid.
She started working Pizza Boccone when she was 14 and was appointed head chef at Metisse, which opened in 2019, when she was 21. And in 2021, at just 22, she opened her own restaurant, Acqua e Farina.
Khan is busy: she splits her nights between both restaurants (literally running between the two), while juggling appearances on TV shows like Snackmasters and The Cook Up With Adam Liaw on SBS.
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With so many achievements already, Khan is one to watch. She chatted with Broadsheet about her career so far, the lessons she’s learnt along the way, her future plans and where she eats when she’s off-shift.
When did you realise you wanted to be a chef?
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but I have always loved cooking. I’ll always remember when my dad taught me how to make soufflé for my mum when I was a kid. I was so focused, making sure I memorised all the steps. The best part was seeing how much my mum loved the soufflé. I continued making them for her throughout my childhood.
Do you think being so young in a senior role has impacted your cooking, or how others have treated you?
I don’t think my age impacts my cooking in a negative way, although there have been instances where older male chefs have questioned my abilities. In my first two years in the industry, I faced a bit of backlash and poor treatment. I was shoved and spoken down to, or minimised by male chefs in their mid- to late-20s. It made me super anxious going into work. I just deal with these external doubts by putting my head down and getting the work done to the best of my ability. I reckon when you commit to something, your capabilities will always shine through.
Witnessing poor behaviour from fellow chefs has made me more aware of my own behaviour. I think it’s important to break down the more outdated communication strategies some of my peers may have adopted from their past jobs. At the end of the day, demonstrating kindness in the kitchen makes the job easier and more enjoyable.
Metisse and Acqua e Farina are very different. Do you need to bring distinct skills for each venue?
Metisse is a degustation restaurant, it is very mathematical; when the third course goes out, you begin cooking the fourth and fifth. It’s all about timing, accuracy and plating. Once you have prepped, you know exactly what the dishes will be and when they will be served.
Acqua is casual à la carte, we do not know what customers will order, we can only prep and cook when the docket is in front of us. It’s more of a spontaneous process.
There are nights where I will run between the two venues – cooking at both – so I’ve had to figure out a way to shift my mind from spontaneous to mathematic and vice versa. It’s actually very fun.
What’s a dish you’re particularly proud of?
One dish that comes to mind is less “impressive” and more a comfort food. The linguine pink prawns at Acqua was a dish I made for myself one night out of curiosity. It is a mix of classic Napoletana sauce and a white wine cream sauce with a hint of chilli, topped off with juicy prawns. I put it up as a special to see if the customers liked it as much as I did. It’s now a staple on the menu and we see people coming in every week to eat it. *
What’s your dream job?
I love my job! There isn’t another job I am dreaming of. The only thing on my radar would be to do more television work. I would love to travel to Bangladesh and document the food and my journey back to my roots on [Bangladeshi-born] dad’s side. Bangladeshi food is incredibly underrated in my opinion. I would love to be a part of the community that sheds light on this cuisine while also telling a story.
Where do you eat and drink when you’re off-shift?
I love going to Lakemba for food. There is a large Bangladeshi community there, which is so exciting for me. The food in Lakemba has heart and soul, it’s a must for any foodies who want to try something new.