Glancing out from behind the line and looking over the plate rail your inner-self is proud, and frankly amazed, at how perfectly you designed your open kitchen. As a chef/owner you realized from the onset that you would need to divide your vision between your culinary command center and the dining room.
This is going to be an evening for the win column: all things seem perfect. The lighting is at just the right level – allowing romance to glitter as your core of server professionals attend to every dining room detail. And even with every chair occupied a soft symphony of conversation, glasses clinging, and silverware dancing in hand, fills the air.
Suddenly out of nowhere a deep throated hack breaks the mood of the dining room. Guests turn their heads in unison towards the kitchen as the sous continues his phlegm filled chorus while plating a perfectly seared Ahi Tuna. With both hands full he has little time to cover his mouth as the Flu that has been stalking for days finally broke through the anti biotic barrier and captured his inner-self.
This scenario becomes more common daily as open kitchens have opened the windows of secrecy and allowed full view range of the professional and often, the sickly.
I received an email last week inquiring as to whether kitchen employees need to take any physical exam or health check-ups before being granted the privilege of standing in front of a 5000 BTU stove. The answer, quite simply is no. There are no health regulations – when it comes to physical health- that any state (to the best of my knowledge) requires restaurant employees to adhere to. Now this is not to say that individual owners have their own set of health standards that employees must follow.
A responsible owner should always be constantly concerned with their customer’s well being. And although that primarily is focused on the enjoyment of the customer’s experience no owner wants a customer to get sick – no matter what the cause- when in their restaurant. It is very, very, very, (multiply that by 1000) bad for business.
With the increased individual awareness and multi-media promotion of disease round us, consumers are becoming ever more concerned with colds, flu, and other infectious diseases that are transmitted by hand shakes, cheek kisses, hugs and coughing sous chefs. And costumers do remember if they can sick at a restaurant.
In the middle of flu season my wife, Kranston and I went to a local restaurant for dinner. We were surrounded by coughing customers. The next morning Kranston awoke, with the flu. We will never go to that restaurant again, I will guarantee it. As a matter of fact she covers her mouth when we drive by the place.
So it is in the best interest of the owner to make sure his staff is healthy or home when they are sick.
However, when it comes to the knowledge of foodborne illness in food due to improper handling and storing of raw meats, vegetables, soups and stews, kitchen employees need to be certified by most health departments and educated on proper procedures. These courses are mandatory in many states and health department sponsored classes for chefs and kitchen employees, and in some states, even servers, are required yearly.
Within many of these courses, personal hygiene and health are covered. And, for most culinary professionals and owners, nothing is worse than being behind a sweltering stove, a steaming table, or a boiling pot of pasta when you are sick. Personal responsibility still reigns supreme and most professionals will volunteer to stay home.