It’s no secret that professional kitchens are one of the last few workplaces where truly ghastly things happen on an almost daily basis. Faces are burned; digits are severed; blood is shed. So Grub Street is celebrating Halloween the only way it knows how: by asking the country’s best chefs for stories of real-life kitchen horrors. Read on for thirteen terrible tales — if you think you have the stomach for it.
Chef: Farid Zadi, Café Livre et Le Marche
Instrument of Injury: Deep fryer
"When I was working in Seoul, a new line cook put his hand in the deep fryer to remove the French fries. He made it just past his fingertips before feeling the burn of boiling hot fat. I don’t know what he was thinking."
Chef: Lydia Shire, Towne Stove and Spirits
Instrument of Injury: Eel attack!
"It was the season of live baby anguillas. I opened the bag of eels to drain them so that I could cook them in my hot sauté pan of sputtering olive oil, garlic, and chile peppers. Suddenly,
Chef: Joe Miller, Bar Pintxo
Instrument of Injury: Cream of broccoli soup
"Many years ago, I was making a fifteen-gallon batch of cream of broccoli soup, and I had to dump the entire batch. As I was dumping it, the vat tilted and spilled all over the entire left side of my body. It took a whole day in the hospital to peel off the shirt from my skin."
Chef: Jonathan Waxman, Barbuto
Instrument of Injury: His mentor’s knife
"As an apprentice at Domaine Chandon L’Etoile in Napa Valley, my mentor commenced upon a lesson on how to slice an onion. My left hand was on the corner of the cutting board at what I thought was a safe distance. His twelve-inch blade came down on me, and my thumb surgically severed precisely at the joint. As I raced to the nearest hospital, the biggest problem, other than bleeding and pain, was how to shift my little Fiat, clutch, and steer while keeping the thumb intact."
Chef: Alex Stupak, Empellón
Instrument of Injury: A tub of hot oil
"I was still working at Clio, and someone had emptied the oil out of the fryer at night and put it in a plastic bucket. I didn’t know any of this had transpired, but I went to move the bucket because I was mopping. When I lifted it, the bottom fell out and drenched me in hot oil from my belly button on down. The only reason I wasn’t badly burned was that I ripped my pants off right there."
Chef: Danny Mena, Hecho en Dumbo
Instrument of Injury: Roasting pan
"When I first started working at the Modern, there was a large roasting pan that had been cooking a pork shoulder. It was pulled out of a 500 degree oven. We removed the shoulder, and the cook wanted to remove most of the fat at the bottom of the pan. But since the pan was black, he didn’t realize that there was three inches of 500 degree grease at the bottom. He went to wipe the pan with his towel, and completely submerged his entire hand, giving himself a horrible third-degree burn."
Chef: Jet Tila, Wazuzu
Instrument of Injury: 100-gallon kettle of soup
"There was a dishwasher who was cleaning the hoods above 100 gallons of soup in a steam kettle. For perspective, a 100 gallon pot is large enough to boil two adults. Just like in the movies, the dishwasher’s foot slipped, and the soup got a new ingredient. Needless to say, his foot and a lot of his leg were terribly boiled and badly damaged."
Chef: Paul Shoemaker, Savory
Instrument of Injury: Salted beef!
"One night, cote-du-beouf was selling like crazy, and my chef de cuisine was in a hurry to get it made in time. He grabbed some fleur de sel to season the beouf and laid the piece of meat on the already sizzling pan. The salt had soaked up the moisture of the meat, and when it hit the pan, the hot oil from the pan splashed and popped all over my face, leaving my skin hanging in pieces and bubbles of pus. The staff screeched in horror — I looked like Freddy Krueger! I had to walk around with this scary face for a good two weeks until it healed."
Chef: Seamus Mullen, Tertulia
Instrument of Injury: Hot stock
"I had a kid who worked for me once that was cleaning squid at the prep sink. Someone put a hot stockpot of chicken stock behind him and didn’t say anything. He took a step back and fell into the stockpot. He tried to catch himself, but ended up slipping and falling in up to his armpit. He got third-degree burns up to his bicep, and they blistered up so badly that the poor guy looked like Swamp Thing."
Chef: Spike Mendelsohn, Good Stuff Eatery, We the Pizza
Instrument of Injury: Mandolin
"When I was working in Vietnam, one of the chefs-in-training cut off all of his fingertips with a mandolin. Like, straight across, all of them gone. He was so afraid that our boss would yell at him that he tried to wear layers of gloves all day, but the blood kept seeping through them. Eventually he got thrown out of the kitchen."
Chef: Marco Suarez, Canary Square
Instrument of Injury: Meat slicer
"One morning I entered my prep room and all I saw was blood. Blood on the floor, blood on the wall… and blood on the meat slicer. My cook stood there in silence, reached into his pocket, and pulled out the one-inch-long top knuckle of his thumb. It was sliced perfectly straight at the knuckle. I drove him to the ER like it was an episode of Top Gear."
Chef: Paul Liebrandt, Corton
Instrument of Injury: Boning knife
"At L’Escargot in the nineties, this guy was sharpening a boning knife on a steel, and he missed a swipe, taking the knife straight between his thumb and forefinger. The entire thumb was hanging by one string, literally. Not just a part of the thumb, but the entire thing. It was exploding with blood — projectile bleeding everywhere. I had to take him to the hospital, but he was badly hurt for a long time after that."
Chef: Chuck Hughes, Chuck’s Day Off
Instrument of Injury: Hot-oil bath
"In cooking school, we had to clean the fryers. I remember a girl opened the fryer and basically drained the oil down her leg. It burned the whole thing, all that was left was bone, almost. She never came back to culinary school; we never saw her again."