Dubai: Celebrity Chef Atul Kochhar on Wednesday said he was ‘deeply upset’ by a Dubai hotel’s decision to cut ties with him, following his inflammatory tweet that caused outrage on social media amid accusations of racism, bigotry and Islamophobia.
“The decision by JW Marriott Marquis Dubai is deeply upsetting, however I fully accept the great pain I have caused and the difficult position the hotel has been put in,” he wrote in an emailed statement to Gulf News tabloid!
“I have great respect for JW Marriott and in particular their staff in Dubai and wish the hotel well for the future. I hope my friends and well-wishers in Dubai will forgive me and continue to support me in the future,” he continued.
The Michelin-starred chef operated the award-winning Rang Mahal Indian restaurant at Dubai’s JW Marriott Marquis Hotel.
On Tuesday, the hotel announced it had ended its agreement with Kochhar.
“Following the recent comments made by Chef Atul Kochhar, we have taken the decision to end our agreement with him for Rang Mahal. With the termination of our agreement, Chef Atul will no longer be associated with the restaurant,” Bill Keffer, General Manager of JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai said in an emailed statement.
According to the hotel, the restaurant will continue to operate without the chef’s affiliation.
Earlier, the celebrity chef issued a second apology 48 hours after his inflammatory tweet to actress Priyanka Chopra. In a statement posted on his Twitter timeline, Kochhar reached out to his “Muslims friends” and the “Islamic community and everyone I have offended”, calling his words “insensitive and wrong.”
He further added: “My work and my restaurant 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.”
Kochhar faced the wrath of social media users with a call to boycott his restaurants after he criticised Chopra on Twitter who had posted an apology of her own for offending her fans over a recent episode of her TV show Quantico that portrayed a Hindu nationalist group plotting a terror attack in New York.
In Kochhar’s now deleted tweet, the chef responding to Chopra’s mea culpa, writing: “It’s sad to see that you have not respected the sentiments of Hindus who have been terrorised by Islam over 2000 years. Shame on you.”
Following the swift online backlash, Kochhar retracted his tweet, calling it a “major error made in the heat of the moment,” while further adding: “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.”
However, social media was not so forgiving, with many reprimanding the chef out once again for his choice of words in his apology with Twitter user Masarat Daud posting: “@atulkochhar has apologised for getting the Islamic date wrong, but not for his bigotry…”
“When I saw your tweet, I didn’t even notice 2000, I noticed dehumanizing bigotry… but your apology focused on 2000 Vs 1400 semantics,” tweeted Baba.
Restaurant finder app Halal Gems, which has operations in the UAE and the UK, was also swift to drop Kochhar-affiliated eateries from its listings.
“There is just no need for our platform to promote restaurants where owners hold bigoted views. Consumers can make their own decisions about where they would like to dine,” Halal Gems founder and CEO Zohra Khaku told Gulf News. “It was important [to drop his restaurants] because our organisation is built on valuing ethics, promoting good values and high standards.”
She continued: “I do think his views will ultimately affect his brand. Brands are built on values and we’ve seen the values Atul holds. The halal conscious consumer is incredibly loyal, but break that trust and you will have a hard time rebuilding it. I hope Atul manages to reform his opinions.”
While Chopra has yet to put out a statement over Kochhar’s remark, his latest apology has elicited mixed reactions on social media.
“When Priyanka apologised which she didn’t have to, you weren't that nice to her, were you?” tweeted Fehmeenavoice, adding: “As for me I am never going to visit any of your food outlets. Your apology is just to save your restaurants and money. Priyanka’s views on terrorism was reel but your views are real.”
“Our criticism was also not to offend you personally, rather, to let you not carried away by the ongoing politically-motivated hate speech. As I said in my last reply, you can use this opportunity to become a source of positivity,” tweeted Omair Anas.
Moiz Syed posted: “I wish people like you who are passionate to unite cultures by culinary delights, get more informed on history, religions and culture. Seeking knowledge is the best option.”
Kochhar started his career in New Delhi before shifting base to the UK. In 2001, he became the first Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin star.