Got chicken in your veg soup?

A celeb chef based in London has just admitted to adding chicken stock to items labelled veg. Bengaluru chefs say it is not right to trifle with food sentiments

In most Asian countries, they use non-vegetarian stocks to make their dishes.

Many in the culinary industry know Michelin-starred chef Karunesh Khanna for his haute cuisine curries at Tamarind restaurant in London.

Last week, he reportedly admitted to using store-bought chicken stock and chicken cubes to flavour his acclaimed vegetarian and vegan meals.

It was after staffers complained that the practice came to light. The executive chef allegedly told a manager that guests didn‘t need to know about it.

Assistant manager Mafis Ali lost his job when he blew the whistle. He informed the restaurant director, who backed the chef too. Ali finally approached the employment tribunal. 

The judge at the tribunal ruled Ali was unfairly dismissed and awarded him damages of a month‘s wages, or about Rs 2 lakh.

Bengaluru has a mix of vegetarians and non-vegetarians dining out regularly, and restaurants say they are careful to keep vegetarian sentiments in mind.

Chef Manu Chandra, head of the Bengaluru chapter of the National Restaurant Association of India, says, “It‘s basic ethics in any kitchen to follow vegetarian and non-vegetarian demarcation. However, accidents do happen if the waiter does not hear the order properly or the chef makes a mistake. But a deliberate practice like this is not acceptable.“ 

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has set down guidelines that restaurants must follow, and one of it relates to a clear labelling of vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Eggs are mostly classified under the second category. 

“But when you are travelling abroad, especially in Asian countries, even if you ask for a vegetarian dish, it can turn out non-vegetarian because they use animal stock. It’s part of their culture and you can‘t do anything about it,” he says.

Chefs who have lived and worked in India know kitchens cannot run like that. “We have all kinds of people — Jains and sattvic to halal diners,” he says, “You need to respect their sentiments no matter what.” 

Orders do get mixed up. When some colleagues at an office ordered egg biryani for lunch, it came with bits and pieces of chicken. 

A chef who did not wish to be named for this story says, “This does happen, unfortunately. Cooks need to be more careful. And in order to rectify the situation, they usually send out the right order with an apology and hope not to repeat the mistake.”

It is important to be sensitive to personal ethics and religious beliefs when it comes to food, chefs agree.

“If anyone deliberately hurts religious sentiments when it comes to a way of life, it becomes a criminal case. If it‘s an act of negligence, it falls under the consumer laws,” explains advocate KBK Swamy.

What the law says

Article 295A of Indian Penal Code says whoever deliberately and maliciously outrages religious feelings, and insults or attempts to insult a religion and religious beliefs, can be fined and jailed for up to three years. 

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