Welcome to Hot Topics, in which chefs chime in on an issue in food.
[Art: Eric Lebofsky]
There's a good chance that at some point after August, all restaurant workers in Oregon will have to wear gloves to comply with legislation that prohibits bare hand contact with "ready-to-eat" food. Chefs, pretty much across the board, are not looking forward to it. Most point to the impracticality of applying the rule to all tiers of restaurants, the potential impediments to the cooking process, and added waste as the most significant drawbacks of the law. In anticipation of next month's hearing on the measure, in which chefs will have a chance to voice their concerns, we asked four chefs from Oregon to weigh in on the issue and talk about whether they plan on abiding by the law.
Here, now, Jenn Louis (Lincoln Restaurant, Portland), Jason French (Ned Ludd, Portland), Daniel Mondok (Paulée, Dundee), and Gabriel Rucker (Le Pigeon, Portland) take on the question.
Jenn LouisRestaurants: Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern — Portland, OR
What are your thoughts on the law?
It's really impractical. I think that if we want to talk about good hygiene, we should talk about good hygiene in the restaurant business. For professional organizations, it's important.
But it's obvious that mass production kitchens are different from restaurant kitchens. They're not using fire and heat, and I think rubber gloves can really pose a danger to cooking with an open flame. Say, for instance, that something melts on someone's hand. What happens then?
For a city so concerned with sustainability and being environmentally friendly, this is going to produce a tremendous amount of waste. At all our restaurants, we compost and make lots of efforts to make sure we're doing things correctly.
Like I said, this is an important thing to discuss, but we have regular health inspections, and it's easy to see which restaurants have more trouble than others.
How do you think it'll affect your restaurant?
I don't think it's necessary in my restaurants or in my catering business. I actually would go as far as to say it's dangerous. Having another layer where you can't feel the edge of the knife, where you can't feel that heat as well, is not good. I don't want to impose those things on my cooks.
I run a clean house — so do most of my colleagues — so it just doesn't make sense.
Have you decided if you'll abide by it?
I have not. It's unfortunate to have to face closings and fines for defying it.
Jason FrenchRestaurant: Ned Ludd — Portland
How do you look at this issue?
You can maybe see this as big industry versus small business in that blanket political way. The FDA has continued to make tons of crackdowns on all sorts of things like farmers and how things are processed. Nut farmers, for instance, can't make nut butter without building a very expensive facility. The food business and big business are at odds, and this sort of reeks of that government intrusion with no real good evidence to support. That's just the way that it feels.
From my perspective, I've had twenty restaurants and have worked with tons of cooks in my career. No one has gotten sick. If you want to talk about cafeteria food and industrialized food and airport food, then that's one thing. This seems like a blanket issue that doesn't really pertain to us.
So you'd be open to a law that's maybe more pragmatic and takes into account the fact that there are different kinds of restaurants?
Totally. Do my cows graze on the feces of pigs and fucking chickens? No. All the horror stories that you hear about industrial food — there's no surprise why E. Coli breakouts happen.
Are you going to abide by the law?
I don't always drive 55 and I don't always come to a complete stop when I get to a stop sign. If they are going to go through with this, I can make my staff aware of it and introduce it in scenarios, but there's something special about dealing with the product and shaking the hands of the people that bring it to you. I'm not necessarily a fan of standing by a law that I don't believe in. For the most part, I would try to ignore it.
Gabriel RuckerRestaurant: Le Pigeon — Portland
I take it you're not a fan of the law, if the chefs I've already talked to are any indication.
I'm really not looking forward to it, but it's going to be the law and you have to go with it. I don't think it will keep anyone safer, to be honest. It will negate all the efforts all of us in the city put into composting. My restaurant and all of the restaurants that my colleagues run take a lot of time and spend a lot of money making sure we compost and do the right thing.
How will it affect your cooking?
It'll make things slower, for sure. You're going to have take them off and put them off — you still need to wash them, and if you've ever tried to put them on with wet hands, it's a pain.
So you will actually follow the law?
Yeah, of course.
Daniel MondokRestaurant: Paulée — Dundee
Are you a fan or not a fan of the legislation?
I'm not a fan. It's going to create waste, and if you have people wearing gloves, odds are they're not going to want to wash their hands as often. It could actually make things worse.
We're going to spend lots of money on those gloves, and those things aren't going to let us connect with the product as well.
Can you elaborate on that?
As a chef, you spend a lot of time sourcing products from farmers, and it seems like when you really connect with your farmers and connect with your product, you learn to have so much respect for it. Now, there's this barrier between you and this product that was grown specifically for you. You're engaging in the cycle of this product's life, and this hinders that.
Do you think any good can come of it?
I don't think there's any value to it. The only thing it's doing that might be positive is removing thumbprints from plates.
Will you abide by the law?
I don't know if I'm going to or not. It's quite funny that they keep having these meetings for chefs to chime in on the issue, but they always do them on Saturdays when we tend to work.
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