Zagat 30 Under 30 David Bouhadana, chef and partner of Sushi Dojo, was told by the Department of Health last Thursday night that his East Village restaurant, known for its $45 omakase, was to be shut down, along with its West side kiosk in Gansevoort Market. In most cases, the DOH only shuts restaurants down for major violations such as vermin infestations, and normally 18 points wouldn't be enough to close Sushi Dojo. But the DOH had been to the restaurant six times previously citing them with violations for not wearing gloves. And this time, they lowered the boom: the restaurant had to close its doors. "I never in my life imagined that I’d have to turn to my staff and say 'tomorrow morning we don’t have a job," says Bouhadana. "They can fire me or they can make me wear gloves or take me to jail, but leave my 17 employees out of it. I’m their leader and their boss and I feel helpless."
In traditional sushi preparation, chefs are not supposed to wear gloves, as the chef's body temperature slightly heating the fish plays a vital role in both shaping the sushi and its eventual flavor. "The word nigiri means "hand-molded sushi," Bouhadana tells us. The young chef has a plan to educate the DOH and hopefully get the mandatory glove rule changed via a petition that will contain many high-profile names. So far many chefs have already publicly come out in support of Bouhadana, claiming that a glove is no cleaner than a hand. Anthony Bourdain shared the following reaction with Eater:
"You cannot make sushi through plastic surgical gloves. You can't. This is monstrous, monstrous, monstrous. It's the destruction of sushi as we know it. Body temperature fuels everything, the sensitivity to pick up the rice. This is not Subway, for f--k's sake. This is something people have dedicated their lives to. No. You know which team I'm on."
A ban on bare-hand food contact was enacted in California in 2014 and repealed the same year after a strong petition from California chefs, including many sushi chefs. "Restaurants should choose the glove policy by themselves, not the city and the state," Bouhadana argues.
Sushi Dojo will face the DOH in a hearing next week at an undisclosed time and date but right now they are focused on reopening. Stay tuned for updates as they emerge.