British-Moroccan chef gives free gourmet meals to key workers, homeless amid coronavirus

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British-Moroccan chef and entrepreneur Khalid Dahbi distributes meals to front line workers. (Supplied)
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Front line workers receive Khalid Dahbi’s meals. (Supplied)
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British-Moroccan chef and entrepreneur Khalid Dahbi prepares meals for front line workers and the homeless. (Supplied)
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British-Moroccan chef and entrepreneur Khalid Dahbi distributes meals to front line workers. (Supplied)
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British-Moroccan chef and entrepreneur Khalid Dahbi prepares meals for front line workers and the homeless. (Supplied)
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British-Moroccan chef and entrepreneur Khalid Dahbi prepares meals for front line workers and the homeless. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 April 2020

British-Moroccan chef gives free gourmet meals to key workers, homeless amid coronavirus

  • Dahbi says he and his team are “keen to deliver” and distribute meals where they are needed
  • The British-Moroccan chef and entrepreneur said he is preparing the meals solely to help others and has always “loved giving back”

LONDON: A British-Moroccan chef and entrepreneur is bringing a smile to dozens of key workers and homeless people in England during the coronavirus lockdown by cooking and distributing 150 restaurant-style meals every day.

Khalid Dahbi, 39, the executive resident chef at British concierge company Quintessentially, said he is keeping his kitchen open during the coronavirus outbreak to provide nutritious food to frontline workers as a way of giving back to society.

“For me, it’s another way of having fun,” Dahbi told Arab News. “Amid the darkness of the coronavirus pandemic, if I can make people smile through my food, then I’ve succeeded.”

He said his meals are gourmet standard, and he has been serving dishes such as risotto with truffles, grilled supreme of free-range chicken with risotto primavera, smoked salmon sandwiches, and risotto primavera with grilled chicken and salsa.

“The meals aren’t served hot, but we ask recipients of the meals to heat them up,” Dahbi said. “They’re served in packaging that’s suitable for ovens and microwaves, so they just need to warm the food up and they have a restaurant-style meal.”

The British government has introduced a lockdown and social-distancing measures to slow the spread of coronavirus in the country.

The measures include restaurant closures, which make it difficult for key workers such as nurses and police officers, who have stretched schedules and work round the clock, to obtain food.

“There are a lot of people in London who don’t have access to hot food, and with everything closed, I’m taking the opportunity to cook some gourmet meals for nurses and other key workers, Dahbi said, adding that he and his team are “keen to deliver” and distribute meals wherever they are needed.

“A few friends of mine who work for the NHS (National Health Service) recently called me and told me that nurses have very little options for food and that they can only buy cold sandwiches at the hospital cafeteria,” he said.

“So we cooked some food and put it into our vans and took it over to London Bridge Hospital, where a member of staff made sure that around 30-40 nurses had a nice hot meal.”

Dahbi said he is preparing the meals solely to help others and has always “loved giving back.”

He added: “I’m giving to the areas where there’s a real necessity. Yesterday I went to Charing Cross Police Station. The police don’t have access to hot food. We walked into the police station and were welcomed with open arms. They accepted all the food we gave them and thanked us immensely because they needed it. There was nothing around. Even if you bring food from home, it’s not the same thing.”
Although 80 percent of the meals that Dahbi cooks are given to frontline workers, he has also distributed food to homeless shelters in Covent Garden, Camden and Marylebone.

“If I come across anybody on the streets on my way to these shelters, I’ll stop and open my boot and give them a meal,” he said.

Dahbi, who also owns a pizzeria and restaurant in Covent Garden, covers the costs of the meals that he and his team of five chefs make, as well as their wages. He said it is a way of keeping his team in employment during these difficult times.

“It’s my way of investing in my team and keeping them busy, because I don’t want to lose these people who’ve been with me for such a long time, so it’s a good way to get them involved, and of course they’re being paid as well,” he added.

Paying tribute to his team, he said: “I’m successful because of the people around me. Without them I’d be nothing. They stand by me on a daily basis, and for me to turn my back on them isn’t something I’d consider.”

Indian anti-hate group ‘victim of hate’ after leaders arrested

Updated 10 min 38 sec ago

Indian anti-hate group ‘victim of hate’ after leaders arrested

  • Several members detained on charges of inciting deadly religious riots in Delhi

NEW DELHI: A prominent group established three years ago to fight incidents of hate and prejudice against the Muslim minority community in India said on Monday that it is “gasping for breath” after officials detained some of its founding members under the country’s draconian terror law.

The authorities have accused the United Against Hate (UAH) group of inciting religious riots in New Delhi in February this year.

“The platform which has been fighting against religious and communal hate in society has become a victim of hate itself,” Nadeem Khan, 35, one of the founding members of UAH, told Arab News.

“With the detention of some of our founding members and the questioning of a large number of youths, there is a strong sense of fear among people who are part of such a platform,” he said.

Founded in 2017, when incidents of alleged hate crimes against Muslims – on the pretext of selling or consuming beef – were on the rise, the UAH was one of the few nonpolitical groups which played a significant role in mobilizing the masses against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which became law in December last year.

While the CAA guarantees citizenship for minority Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, and Buddhist communities from neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, it excludes Muslims.

The CAA is part of the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise aimed at identifying “genuine citizens” of India.

However, many Indians, and not only Muslims, feel that the CAA is discriminatory as any non-Muslim who does not find a mention in the NRC can seek recourse under the citizenship law.

Muslims, on the other hand, would become stateless.

“People, mostly Muslims, across India came on the streets against the CAA, and the UAH was just an agency for creating awareness. But the Indian government did not like the political mobilization of Muslim masses,” Khan said.

Protests against the CAA, which began in late December, surged for months, resulting in the leaders of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) launching a counter-campaign. 

The heightened communal tensions led to religious violence in the Indian capital toward the end of February, in which more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, died.

“It was a peaceful and democratic protest against the discriminatory policy of the government. This was our right to protest. But the government is now calling our protest sedition and arrested some of our founding members,” said Khan, who has been questioned by Delhi police in connection with the February riots after being named in the charge sheet.

Other UAH members who felt “the need to respond to such hate crimes through a social platform” include 28-year-old Umar Khalid and 36-year-old Khalid Saifi.

They have since been arrested.

“What was the crime of my husband? When has serving people and fighting for unity and secularism of the country become a crime in this nation?” said Khalid Saifi’s wife, Nargis.

Saifi was detained in February for “inciting religious violence” in New Delhi while Khalid was arrested on September 16 and faces multiple charges.

“This is nothing but an attempt to break the spirit of the people, particularly Muslims, and tell the community that they can live in India like ordinary citizens without raising their political voice,” said Nargis, a mother of three.

More than 600 people have been detained in the Delhi riots’ cases, the majority of them Muslims.

Several rights groups, including Amnesty International, have voiced concerns over the large-scale detentions of activists and students for protesting against the CAA and blamed the BJP government for “crushing democratic dissent.”

On Monday, the president of India’s main opposition Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, attacked the government for stifling protesting voices that it brands as “terrorism” and “anti-national activity.”

“The fundamental right to freedom of expression has been systematically suspended through suppression and intimidation. Dissent is deliberately stifled as terrorism or branded as an anti-national activity,” Gandhi said in an opinion piece published in the leading English daily, the Hindustan Times.

“The Narendra Modi government and the ruling BJP conjure up sinister conspiracies behind every political protest, indeed behind any and everything they see as opposition to them. India’s hard-won democracy is being hollowed out.”

Renowned author and activist Arundhati Roy agrees.

“It is really beyond humiliating to live in this atmosphere where people are funneled and marinated in this hatred. Today, you have a country whose economy is in shreds. People are hungry; people don’t have jobs. Everything is coming apart. But we are held together by a pipeline of hatred, which is funneled by the mainstream media,” she said during a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday.

The BJP denies promoting “hate.”

“We are fighting against hate. We don’t promote an ideology of hate. We can claim to represent India’s real intellectual legacy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family),” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma said.

He described Gandhi’s article as a piece “written in pangs” as the Congress party’s “ecosystem is collapsing.”

“People are leaving the party. And there is no reprieve for the Gandhi family because the BJP is going to be in power for many more years. We can understand the pangs of the Congress chief,” he said.

Political experts, however, say that the broader aim of the governing party is to “disempower people and make them subjects,” who cannot act independently.

“My understanding is that the criminalization of organizations like UAH is the first step towards disempowering all Indians and turning them into subjects who don’t have their agency of their own,” said analyst Professor Apoorvanand Jha, of Delhi University.