A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with an open kitchen. I glanced at the exhibition kitchen just as the heavily bearded chef swiped the side of his sweaty, hairy face with his bare hands. He was plating food at the time. I couldn’t help but imagine a hundred tiny beard hairs falling on the prep table below.
There was a time when all kitchen workers were required to wear hairnets. When I worked in a professional kitchen, we all wore them. We also swore they didn’t really work. Now most workers seem to get by with caps and do-rags. Don’t know how that keeps your hair out of food. Each time you adjust your cap, you’re breaking off little clumps. I’m not a germaphobe, but I don’t want to eat a salad tossed with strands of hair.
But what about facial hair? How do the rules apply to bearded boys? I called the Dallas Consumer Health Division to ask about guidelines. After a 17-minute hold, I was given the numbers of two health officials. I called them both and left messages. I searched the website and found this: “Effective hair restraints, including hairnets, caps or hair sprays, are required in food preparation and serving areas.” Vague information at best and nothing about facial hair. The Texas Department of State Health Services site was more ambiguous. The Texas Food Establishment Rules require “hair restraints effective.” Searches for “beard” on both sites yielded nothing. One prominent restauranteur answered the question—but only off the record. The person typed: “For facial hair it depends on the length[.] I don’t know what the line of demarcation is. A little bit of scruff no problem but longer beards require a beard net.”
Huh? Is this a hidden agenda for bearded wonders? A search opened my eyes. There were over four million results with clickbait headlines such as “Beards as Dirty as Toilet Seats!” and “Men’s Beards Are Filled with Poop!” Heavens, my little observation revealed I’d stumbled on a world problem.
I called a chef with a beard. Graham Dodds answered the call. “Yeah, it’s kind of a gray area,” Dodds says referring the issue, not the color of his facial hair. “The Health Department checks everything pretty close. I think they are more concerned about gloves and things like that. I think if they had a problem with it, they’d tell you.”
Please understand I’m not throwing Dodds out here as the Dusty Hill of Dallas chefs or implying he has a poopy beard. Dodds is neatly groomed, which I think is what health officials want to see. But other states have stricter rules. Florida has a policy that states “beards and moustaches longer than 1/2 inch must also be in a restraint.”
I’d rather see a bearded chef in an exhibition kitchen than some dude clothed like an extra in Outbreak. As long as I don’t find anything in my food. Stay vigilante, diners.