Restaurant owner sentenced to 6 years in prison for switching curry recipe

A traditional bowl of curry turned deadly with the addition of peanuts.

A traditional bowl of curry turned deadly with the addition of peanuts.  (Copyright 2013 David Kadlec. All rights reserved.)

Many chefs play around with recipes. But being dishonest about ingredients could have fatal consequences.

On Monday, a British restaurateur was sentenced to six years in prison for serving a curry dish that led to a customer’s untimely death.

But the dish wasn’t laced with cyanide or some recognizable deadly toxin. Mohammed Zaman, the owner of Indian Garden North Yorkshire, England, switched ground almonds with cheaper ground peanuts in his chicken tikka masala recipe to save money. Two years ago, Zaman was over $435,000 in debt and had changed the recipe in an effort to slash restaurant overhead.

Customer Paul Wilson—who suffered from a severe peanut allergy since childhood-- ordered the dish in 2014 and died after eating just one bite of the curry, reports New York Times. According to court documents, Wilson alerted the restaurant of his allergy, and "no nuts" was written on his takeout container.

Despite the fact that a 17-year-old customer had shown symptoms of an allergic reaction to the curry three weeks earlier, Zaman did nothing. The judge presiding over the case scolded the restaurant owner in court for his willful negligence. 

"Paul Wilson was in the prime of his life," Judge Simon Bourne-Arton told Zaman, reports Yorkshire Post. Noting that Wilson had managed to avoid eating the life-threatening nuts his entire life, Bourne-Arton admonished the restaurant owner saying, "He [Wilson], like you, worked in the catering trade. He, unlike you, was a careful man."

Zaman was found  guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence and six other food safety offenses and will face six years in prison. The decision could set a precedent for how negligence cases are handled in the U.K. restaurant industry moving forward.

“[T]rying to distance himself from any involvement in his death. That had struck me through this investigation,” a spokesperson for the North Yorkshire Police told the BBC. “His lack of compassion and understanding about [what] he's actually done.”