Transparency between consumers and eateries

City Health

With many state governments introducing the concept of open kitchens in restaurants, to maintain the required standard of hygiene and sanitation, the idea is not taking root in Karnataka, the state where the practice first started sixty years ago.

By Riya Sharma

Bangalore-based ‘Mavalli Tiffin Rooms’ introduced the practice of opening up of kitchens to the scrutiny of its customers in the 1950s.

Sixty years later, Gujarat’s Commissioner of Food and Drug Control Administration has officially introduced the concept of open kitchens in the state.

“We are empowering people and citizens and reducing our (Food and Drug Control Administration and food safety officers’) burden. Every kitchen should comply with cleanliness and hygiene standards and if they are doing so, this notification should not be a problem,” the order said.

Under Section 31 of the FSS Act, restaurants and hotels must have a license and comply with all licensing conditions. Violation invites  imprisonment upto six months  and fine which may exceed up to Rs. 5 lakhs.

Penalty for processing and manufacturing food in unhygienic conditions can extend up to Rs 1 lakh (Section 5).

Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Chief Health Officer, Dr. B.K. Vijendra said that there are no stringent open kitchen laws in Bangalore just yet.

“It’s a good law that will introduce transparency in the system. We are doing the best we can till the council takes a call and checks if open kitchens can be a possibility in both small and large scale restaurants,” he said.

“Restaurant inspections,” Dr. Vijendra said, “are done in two ways, random checks or checks on public complaints.”

The state of restaurants in the city has improved drastically in the last six months, according to Dr. Vijendra. BBMP has shut down and cancelled the trade licences of about 25-30 restaurants in this period, he said.

Hari Govind, a logistic consultant and a regular customer at MTR said that the reason he eats there every day is that he can trust the restaurant.

“There is full transparency here, I can see how my food is being prepared, that’s all a customer wants,” he added.

Dr. Vijendra added that open kitchens will prevent corruption practices- food inspectors cannot take bribe and give certification to a dirty kitchen when it’s all out in the open.

Restaurateur Abhishek B, who runs a profitable dine-in restaurant and catering service in South End Circle, feels that there are a lot of challenges to build and run a restaurant in a city like Bangalore.

“It is not easy to have an open kitchen due to space constraints in most restaurants. So infrastructure is a big reason why the practice isn’t taking root in the city,” he said.

“Another reason,” Abhishek said, “is that open kitchens will be a very costly affair for most restaurants because a lot of South-Indian dishes require a ‘tadka’, and with open kitchens, a lot more ventilation space and additional infrastructure remodelling would be required to avoid causing any inconvenience to the customers.”

Vikram Maiya, Managing Partner at Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR) said, “This concept works much better and more easily when the kitchen is spread out, like what we have at our restaurants.”

“It is a very touchy subject to allow customers into the kitchen. Looking from a larger perspective, there should be full transparency in the cooking process, but it has to be taken into consideration that there are limitations to how much a kitchen can do and how busy it can get”, he said.

Most restaurants have workers who are not trained from any culinary school and have their own ways of doing things, which may look strange to the onlooking customers but are in no way unhygienic, hence owners do not fancy risking their privacy even though their kitchens may be in excellent working condition, Vikram added.

Out of the 15 restaurants shut down by BBMP in May 2019 due to unhygienic kitchens, most have gotten back on their feet and are running smoothly.

One such restaurant ‘Andhra Ruchulu’ downright denied ever being shut down and another restaurant, ‘Ruh’ in Bellandur avoided answering questions about what changes they have made to rectify the problems before reopening the place.

Ashutosh, a student who regulars restaurants in the city on a daily basis said, “Never visit the kitchen of the restaurant you like, you will never go back again. You should only order take-out from some places.”