Gordon Ramsay visits a long-established Port Washington restaurant, the Indian eatery Diwan, in the second half of the two-hour season finale of Fox’s rebooted “Kitchen Nightmares,” Monday at 9:01 p.m.
“We deserve this attention,” restaurateur Mahendra "Bobby" Chhikara, 68, told Newsday by phone Sunday. Across 40 years as an owner of this and other restaurants, “We have worked very hard and did our part in hiring people and giving them jobs, and now,” he says of retiring from day-to-day personal running of the restaurant, which continues to operate under manager Daniel Fernandes, “it’s time to move on.”
The episode, capping the eighth season of the makeover show that returned in September after a nine-year hiatus, sees chef Ramsay offering his usual critique of a restaurant’s fare and then touring the kitchen and its food storage. As almost invariably, he finds unlabeled and undated old refrigerated food and seemingly spoiled vegetables.
Chhikara says they have two walk-in coolers in their basement, and the one Ramsay shows was from ended ventures that Chhikara and his wife and co-owner, the Trinidad-born and Queens-raised Margaret Jagdeo Chhikara, 65, had tried. One was an upstairs Mexican restaurant, begun in 2021 and that closed about two months before production took place this summer. The other was a ghost kitchen, hired to prepare burgers and other food for a different place.
“Frozen food stays three, four months, so we left it for staff,” he says of that separate walk-in’s fare. “So they make hamburgers for themselves — why throw out food?”
They came to be on the show, Chhikara says, after producers approached him and his wife for a restaurant renovation series that he contends was not the long-discontinued “Kitchen Nightmares.” “We thought, one, national exposure, and two, a $40,000 to $60,000 renovation,” Chhikara says — adding happily, “They did a wonderful job on the restaurant.” Fox did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday afternoon.
Chhikara came to the United States in 1981 after attending military school in his native India, followed by a degree from the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering & Nutrition in Pusa, New Delhi. The hospitality company for which he then worked sent him to America to be a chef at the now-shuttered midtown-Manhattan restaurant Raga, he says.
Two years later, Chhikara and a partner, Gian Saini, took over the space of a closed diner in Jackson Heights, Queens — creating an acclaimed Indian neighborhood restaurant that nonetheless kept the name Jackson Diner since, Chhikara says, “We couldn’t afford to change the sign.” Chhikara left that still-extant eatery around 2000.
He opened the first iteration of Diwan at its present site at 37 Shore Rd. in 1989, operating it through 2000. (A Manhattan spinoff, Diwan Grill, also operated for years.) In 2002, Chhikara reopened there as the mainstream Port Seafood Grill. Four years later, after intervening eateries at that site, restaurateur Harendra Singh opened the Indian restaurant Cinnamon Club, with Chhikara as consultant. At least one other restaurant, Iavarone's Prime View, then occupied the site until the Chhikaras resurrected Diwan there in March 2009. Chhikara has also operated a restaurant each in Connecticut and Colorado.
He and his wife, who split their time between Dix Hills and Puerto Rico, have three children: son Madhur, who owns the sister restaurant Diwan Hicksville, and daughters Priya, a surgeon, and Neelam, a lawyer.
And Chhikara defends his choice of having run a Mexican restaurant in the same space as Diwan, saying lightheartedly, “I told Chef Ramsay, ‘You wrote an Indian cookbook. Why can’t I do Mexican cuisine?’ ”