Some Chefs Are Faking the (Health) Grade

Department of Health Hands Out Health Grades to ChefsThe health craze that has taken the nation by storm for the last few years does not just extend to biodynamic wines and fair-trade chocolate. It also has to do with restaurants’ cleanliness. Now that restaurants are graded by the Department of Health (DOH), any and all violations can result in a restaurant getting a less-than-stellar grade, which could mean bad press for the restaurant.  According to The New York Times, “33 percent [of NYC restaurants] have been cited in their most recent inspections for violations involving foods kept too hot or cold.”

While most restaurants adhere to these standards quite strictly to avoid getting docked points, certain chefs think the rules go too far. Some of them just keep on doing what they do, regardless of the consequences. The surprising effect is that the public largely continues to support these restaurants, instead of siding with the DOH. No matter the grades, if the restaurant has a loyal following, it seems to continue to thrive.

Koreatown has long had a problem with the DOH, since many restaurants there serve kimchi, traditionally fermented Korean cabbage, at room temperature. This violates the DOH mandate that cold food must be kept at 41°F. Many Korean restaurateurs claim that the DOH doesn’t understand the nature of kimchi, and that it is perfectly fine to leave at room temperature once prepared, since its acidity is below 4.6. The DOH counters that it does not have time to test every batch of kimchi of the restaurants it checks, and so some restaurants are docked points and fined for a practice that they believe is completely legit.

Andrew Carmellini, restrauteur extraordinaire, has an A grade at his restaurant The Dutch, even though he refuses to cook his chicken at the DOH specified temperature of 165°F, saying the result would be too dry. He gets around breaking the law by having customers specify that it is all right for his kitchen to cook the chicken at a lower temperature for longer.

And at Sushi Yasuda, one of the most respected sushi restaurants in the city, some chefs simply refuse to bow to DOH regulations. The sushi chefs there continue to prepare sushi, in plain sight, without using gloves. The restaurant has been fined for this practice, but the chefs refuse to bow to the rule, preferring to prepare the ancient dish the way that they feel it should be made.

Whether it is a celebrity chef, a whole ethnic cuisine, or one of the most celebrated sushi restaurants in the country, no restaurant is above getting fined by the DOH. The shocking thing is that people still continue to frequent these restaurants, regardless of the letter grade in the window. Even though the grades may be lower, the lesson learned seems to be that great food is the most important part of a restaurant.


Collins, G. (2012, February 28). Even the A students sometimes break health rules. The New York Times. Retrieved from The New York Times

Reddy, S. (2011, December 20). Restaurants sour on rules over kimchi. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from