The culinary world was shocked when Per Se received a B grade this past February from the New York City Health Department, and then a "grade pending" after the restaurant decided to contest the grade. Thomas Keller recently defended his restaurant at an OATH (Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings) tribunal this past week where a judge ended up overturning the 25-point health violation listing.
In a statement, Keller, like many restaurateurs before him, has complained about the subjective and often unfair nature of the health grading system.
“I continue to stand by our chefs, our cooking techniques, and our methodologies, which have been implemented in our kitchens for the past 20 years,” said Keller. “This inspection is the unilateral perspective of one inspector and neither defines our restaurant, nor our restaurant group. Our number one priority is our guests, and as I have stated before, our kitchen door is always open to them.”
Keller pointed out that many of the points accrued against the restaurant could be contested, such as “a chef drinking water in the kitchen from an open container,” and a “leaky faucet,” both of which could be seen as petty. In addition the restaurant was written up for a “hot food item not held above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.” Keller pointed out in his defense that the potatoes were being cooked as per the French technique for pommes rissolée, which requires the temperature to be at 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
A bill passed this summer by the New York City Council was supposed to reduce any violations that do not pose a threat to food-safety or sanitation to a warning.
So is the process too subjective? Dominique Ansel’s bakery, which was just shut down by the Health Department for a rodent infestation this past Friday, received an A grade from that same Health Department in October of 2013, despite them finding “evidence of mice.”
Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi