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Chefs' blood pressure rises as New York bids to ban salt from menu

Four years ago, New York City's health commissioners banned artery-blocking transfats in restaurants. Now, if a legislator has his way, the chefs at every eatery in the Big Apple and across the state will have to make do without salt.

The language of Bill A 10129, introduced by Felix Ortiz, a representative from Brooklyn, in the New York State Assembly, could not be more specific.

"No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of food for consumption by customers," it says, whether on or off the premises. The penalty for every violation would be $1,000 (f730).

Mr Ortiz, a campaigner for healthier eating, cites a recent report by the World Health Organisation. It shows that at least three-quarters of the sodium consumed in the US-- where the average daily intake is 3,400mg, half as much again as the generally recommended maximum of 2,300mg -- comes in pre-prepared or restaurant foods.

Michael Bloomberg, New York City's mayor, wants the salt content of pre-packaged and restaurant food to be reduced by 25pc over five years. The city estimates about 1.5m residents -- out of a population of 8.3m -- already suffer from high blood pressure, which excess consumption of salt tends to make worse.

Although cooks may be barred from using the stuff under the proposals, salt cellars will still be on the table for patrons.

But that is scant consolation for the culinary stars of a city that likes to think of itself as the restaurant capital of the world. Salt or no salt, Mr Ortiz's idea has sent the collective blood pressure of the city's gastronomic establishment soaring.

Fast food might be full of sodium, "but in a kitchen that's doing fine dining, the use of salt is moderate," John DeLucie, chef at The Waverly Inn said.

And Tom Colicchio, star of the TV programme Top Chef, and owner of Craft restaurant, said: "If they banned salt nobody would come here anymore." Those who wanted to taste food without salt should "go to a hospital and taste its food."