A legal dispute between a former restaurant manager and the high-end Indian Cuisine Limited restaurant group, which owns the Michelin-starred Tamarind in Mayfair and more casual Tamarind Kitchen in Soho, has revealed allegations that the group’s executive head chef used Knorr chicken stock cubes in dishes, including ones advertised as vegetarian and vegan, at the Soho restaurant. The allegations, originally reported by the Mirror, relate to a case of unfair dismissal by former restaurant manager, Masif Ali.
The restaurant group’s director, Fateh Dhaliwal, through a spokesperson, denied some of the allegations to Eater today. “We have never used chicken stock powder in vegan or vegetarian meals,” he said. He did not deny that they were used in the restaurant’s kitchen and also clarified that the allegations related only to Tamarind Kitchen in Soho and not the Michelin-starred Mayfair flagship.
The employment tribunal judgment, which is on public record, between “Mr M Ali” and “Indian Cuisine Limited,” details the allegations made by assistant manager, Ali, who, the tribunal found, had been wrongly dismissed. The judgment documents Ali’s accusing Tamarind’s executive head chef Karunesh Khanna of using Knorr chicken stock cubes in the kitchen of the Soho restaurant. It also details concerns that Khanna was misleading customers, especially the significant number of halal guests the restaurant served. Dhaliwal stated to Eater today: “We are not a halal restaurant and have never been one.”
Although the tribunal did not judge there to be explicit evidence of chicken stock cubes being used in vegetarian and vegan dishes — what Dhaliwal, in emails to Eater today, describes as “baseless claims” — it did state:
What is clear to the Tribunal is that the Claimant genuinely believed that Knorr chicken stock was being used both with halal meat and in vegetarian and vegan meals. The Claimant was very concerned that customers maybe mislead by the addition of the chicken stock and was particularly concerned about the allergen charts being updated.
Dhaliwal also today describes Ali as a “disgruntled ex-employee,” telling Eater that the employment tribunal judged in favour of Ali because of procedural mistakes made by Indian Cuisine Limited. “[They] ruled in employees favor as we did not follow the redundancy procedures fully,” he said. The tribunal states, explicitly, that it found “the Claimant was automatically unfairly dismissed for making protected interest disclosures.”
Ali had brought his concerns to sous chefs and another restaurant manager, Shoaib Malik. After his concerns were ignored by senior directors — Dhaliwal is said to have remarked “those members of staff need to be phased out” — Khanna stated that he was unwilling to give waiters accurate information on those dishes which contained chicken stock. “Khanna made it clear that he was not going to disclose the use of Knorr chicken powder to guests,” the tribunal found. Malik reportedly resigned; Ali was dismissed within two weeks of raising his concerns.
Dhaliwal added, through the spokesperson today, that “the employee was let go as the business was making his role as assistant manager redundant.” He added: “The employee is disgruntled as he was made redundant and threatened the company to pay him substantial sums in the region of £150k to settle the matter.”
And yet, the tribunal states that although it accepts Ali would have been made redundant because of a restructuring plan, the move was “accelerated” to protect Khanna’s position.
The Tribunal finds that the principal reason why Dhaliwal decided to make the Claimant and Tazul [another employee] redundant at this time was because they had both raised concerns about Khanna cooking with Knorr chicken stock and not disclosing this ingredient to customers. Although the Tribunal accepts that Dhaliwal had already made the decision to make the Claimant and the other assistant manager redundant because of the restructuring, the Tribunal finds that the Claimant’s dismissal was accelerated by his protected interest disclosures. Dhaliwal didn’t want anyone or anything interfering with Khanna’s cooking as it was so important to Dhaliwal to have the Michelin star chef for the refurbished restaurant.
Khanna was employed by the Tamarind group in March 2018, according the tribunal’s findings, “to oversee the refit and reopening of the Tamarind of Mayfair.” It adds: “Whilst Tamarind of Mayfair was undergoing the refurbishment Khanna was based at Tamarind Kitchen where he oversaw menu development for the Tamarind Collection and operationally managed at Tamarind Kitchen. During that time, he started to prepare and taste new dishes which included the use of chicken Knorr stock.”
“[Ali] gave evidence that chicken Knorr stock was being added to halal, vegan and vegetarian meals,” it states, before adding that “[Khanna] denied using chicken stock in vegan and vegetarian meals.”
Khanna is now in position as head chef at the company’s Michelin-starred, newly refurbished Mayfair restaurant. Evening Standard restaurant critic Fay Maschler judged earlier this year that it required more work.
There are three restaurants that comprise the Tamarind Collection group: Tamarind of Mayfair, Tamarind Kitchen in Soho, and Zaika in Kensington.