Two days after Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar received flak for his tweet over an episode in the American TV series Quantico, starring Priyanka Chopra, that allegedly portrayed Hindu nationalists as terrorists, Dubai’s JW Marriott Marquis Hotel has ended their contract with him. Kochhar had run the award-winning restaurant, Rang Mahal, at the hotel since 2012.
“At the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, we pride ourselves on creating a culture of diversity and inclusion for our guests and associates across the hotel and our restaurants. We also remain committed to delivering the traditional culinary experience and high service standards that Rang Mahal is renowned for,” Bill Keffer, the hotel’s general manager, said in a statement.
Responding to Chopra, who expressed her regret over the Quantico episode, Kochhar had posted a tweet considered by many to have been anti-Islamic and containing historic inaccuracies. It had caused an uproar on social media and prompted many to complain to the hotel. Kochhar later retracted his tweet and apologised. On Tuesday, he tweeted: “I fully recognise my inaccuracies that Islam was founded around 1,400 years ago and I sincerely apologise. I am not Islamophobic, I deeply regret my comments that have offended many.” In another apology, he wrote: “I would like to apologise unreservedly to my Muslim friends, the Islamic community and everyone I have offended with my recent tweets. They were insensitive and wrong. My work and my restaurants are defined by a passion to unite cultures through food, love and understanding. I have let myself and my colleagues down. I am upset and sorry for the pain I have caused and ask for your forgiveness.”
— Atul Kochhar (@atulkochhar) June 12, 2018
The Jamshedpur-born chef began his career with the Oberoi group of hotels in India, after receiving a diploma in Hotel Management from the Institute of Hotel Management in Chennai. After sweating it out as a sous chef in the Oberoi’s kitchen in New Delhi, Kocchar moved to London in 1994 to work at the fine-dining Indian restaurant Tamarind. It was at the restaurant that Kochhar won his first Michelin star in 2001, also the first for an Indian chef in the history of the Michelin guide. Kochhar was awarded another Michelin star for his second restaurant, Benaras, also a modern Indian fine-dining outfit in London. He has retained the star since 2007. While Benaras remains his flagship venture, Kochhar established several restaurants in other parts of the world including Ananda in Dublin, and Rang Mahal in Dubai, which has now terminated its contract with the chef. Kochhar is regarded by many as the chef who took Indian fine-dining to the West, carving a niche for modern Indian cuisine and inverting the idea of Indian food as greasy takeaway. For this, he was awarded the TMG Cordon Bleu Award in 2010. The same year, Kochhar was invited to meet the Queen of England along with being a guest chef for Prince Charles at St. James’ Palace.
In addition to his restaurants, Kochhar has been associated with television programmes such as Masterchef Goes Large, the Great British Menu and BBC’s Saturday Kitchen and authored the Indian Essence (Quadrille, 2004), Fish, Indian Style (Absolute Press, 2008) and Curries of the World (Absolute Press, 2015).