Last week, New York City’s Department of Health closed the popular, acclaimed East Village restaurant Sushi Dojo. The reasons, according to the official report and a statement provided by the DOH, were “a combination of bare hand contact and food out of temperature.”
The following day, the restaurant’s Gansevoort Market offshoot, Sushi Dojo Express, was also closed. Somewhat surprisingly, in a statement provided to Eater, Dojo chef David Bouhadana — whose third restaurant, Dojo Izakaya, is still open — wrote that he was closed because of “BS rule, a rule I don’t stand by. Sushi is being ruined [by] gloves, freezing fish and more issues.”
Grub called the chef to talk about what exactly happened, what he’s going to do about it, and why he feels he’s being targeted (an edited version is below — dp).
So, what happened?
The Department of Health, let’s put it this way, the DOH has their rules and their laws, and it is what it is. For sushi, there’s always been a gray area as far as fish, rice, temperatures — everything, really. The rule that applies to me and applies to Taco Bell is no bare-hand contact with raw food.
In sushi, we’re taught to be clean, hygienic, and professional. If you are a clean chef, you don’t need gloves. When a health inspector walks in, we all have our code word, we all have our drill: Put the gloves on, smile to the inspector, they walk in, they walk out. You’re good for six months. The problem is my restaurant is designed so when you first walk in you see me, and through the windows you can see me. But this wasn’t an issue before. Sushi Yasuda has open windows. Sushi Nakazawa has open windows. Every sushi bar has open windows.
When did it become an issue then?
The tipping point came when the inspector told me to throw food away in front of my customers. When an inspector walks into a restaurant, like Eleven Madison Park or wherever, they’re in the kitchen. Nobody knows they’re there. When you walk into my restaurant, I am positioned front and the center.
… This is not a disgusting restaurant. There’s no feces, there’s no vomit, there’s no bacteria (wow, that must be something – dp), there’s no sign of any kind of health-hazardous anything. This is a personal issue. I’ve been talking to a lot of sushi chefs for years now, and right now it’s a huge moment, and of course everyone is behind me, but no one really wants me to use their name or get involved in controversy. But, well, what do we do?