May 16, 2024 - Food and Drink

Tampa restaurant's garnish came from a fern bed where dogs pee, report says

Illustration of a knife and fork next to a plate in the shape of a grimacing emoji.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Consider the garnish, that flower or sprig of green that makes a pretty plate of food extra Instagram-friendly.

  • Maybe you push it aside, or maybe you give it a little taste. But have you ever stopped to wonder where it came from?

State of play: Tampa Bay Times food critic Helen Freund set out to answer that question at Ko, a Japanese restaurant in Tampa Heights that shares an owner and space with the Michelin star-awarded Kōsen.

  • And the results, published this week in a feat of investigative journalism, were as troubling as they were interesting.

Why it matters: The sprigs of lime-green foxtail ferns the restaurant used come from an apartment courtyard, vulnerable to insecticides, pollution and — brace yourselves — dog waste.

  • That's not speculation. The Times obtained video of dogs lifting their legs in the plot of ferns. (Journalism isn't dead!)

Yes, and: They're not edible either, which Freund took issue with in itself, considering the caliber and price point of the restaurant.

What she's saying: "Food that's on your plate should be edible, period," Freund wrote.

  • "And though Ko may not have been breaking any major food codes, garnishing dishes with inedible or potentially hazardous ingredients is generally frowned upon by food safety experts."

The other side: Ko's director of operations Max Lipton told Freund the plants were used "strictly for decorative purposes" and didn't come into direct contact with food (although the Times found photo evidence to the contrary).

  • Still, restaurant leaders have decided to cease the practice.
  • "We understand that the use of outdoor plants in a dining setting may raise questions about sanitation," Lipton said.

Worthy of your time: Read the full story here. It's quite a journey.

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