It’s Halloween, and that means today’s full of all spooks and frights you’d typically expect, which is to say no actual scares. But do you know what’s truly terrifying? Life in a professional kitchen, where everyday accidents can result in lost fingers and forever-scarred faces. That’s why, every year around this time, Grub Street asks chefs across the country for their own kitchen horror stories, all of which are far creepier than anything you’ll see today. Check out ten real and gruesome accounts of cooking-related carnage, straight ahead.
Chef: Doug Quint, Big Gay Ice Cream
Instrument of Injury: Simmering strawberries
"Our kitchen has a shelf above the cooktop, which is usually full of cookbooks and jars. I had a pot of strawberries simmering on the cooktop, and I started playing some music on my phone, placing it on the shelf above the pot. Mötley Crüe’s "Kickstart My Heart" shuffled up and the force of Tommy Lee’s first kick-drum hit made my phone bounce off the shelf and land with a sad splat in the simmering pot. I instinctively reached in to grab it — and screamed many expletives as my fingers burned. I instinctively stuck them in my mouth and burned my tongue, too."
Chef: Keavy Blueher, Butter & Scotch
Instrument of Injury: Chef’s knife
"When I was 17, I got a job as a line cook at our popular small-town restaurant. On my second day I was chopping a big pile of jalapeños and I chopped about half an inch off my middle finger. Blood started gushing out, the staff was screaming, and in shock the only thing I could think to do was pick up the little bit of my finger and toss it in the garbage."
Chef: Dan Kluger, ABC Kitchen
Instrument of Injury: A fridge handle
"Many years ago, I had a cook stand on a lowboy [an under-counter fridge] to get something off a shelf. She slipped, and the handle of the lowboy went into her leg by her knees and back out the other side. I still get nauseous thinking about how it looked. She was an amazing trooper and never even got upset."
Chef: Ali Loukzada, Café Serai
Instrument of Injury: Loud noises! (And a knife)
"A few years ago, while working at Buddakan, I was standing next to a line cook cutting some ingredients. It was about 4:30 p.m., that rare quiet moment before the kitchen goes crazy. You could hear a pin drop. Suddenly there’s a BANG! Everyone jumped — turns out a runner dropped a stack of plates. We all went back to work, except the cook realized that the bang made his knife slip and he took off a good chunk of his middle finger. We both just stared at it before the blood started gushing out. That’s when he started screaming."
Chef: Robert Aikens, The Peacock and Shakespeare Pub
Instrument of Injury: Flying glass
"I was working in London for a private investment bank. The kitchen was on the 27th floor and had huge glass windows, about ten feet by five feet. We had huge windstorms one week: I was standing no more than three feet from the windows, frying potato crisps, when one of the windows blew open, hit the overhead canopy, and exploded. I dove out of the way. Glass was everywhere, including a two-foot piece in the fryer where I had just been standing. I could have easily lost my head, but all I got was a couple of stitches in my face."
Chef: Marc Vidal, Boqueria
Instrument of Injury: Knife fight!
"When I was working at Ducasse, I witnessed an intentional horror story. Two cooks got into a fight and one stabbed the other right in the neck. Thankfully, the stabbed cook would be fine, and the other cook got fired immediately."
Chef: Shane Lyons, Distilled
Instrument of Injury: Exploding oil
"During culinary school, the maintenance crew at the restaurant where I worked accidentally knocked an open can of tomato paste into the deep-fat fryer and didn’t clean it out. The next morning we came in for our shift and turned on the fryer without looking inside. The tomato paste in the hot oil caused an explosion and shot hot oil all over my classmate’s face. She’s still scarred to this day."
Chef: Levon Wallace, Proof on Main
Instrument of Injury: Abnormally blunt oyster knife
"I’ve always played the role of medic in the kitchen and I’ve seen some ‘gushers,’ but this one takes the cake. During a stint in Florida, I put grilled oysters on the menu and they were a popular item. My line cooks had a hard time keeping up. One cook, who thought of himself as a badass, was attempting to shuck a ton of oysters during service with an abnormally large and blunt oyster knife. Of course his hand slipped and he shoved the entire blade of that oyster knife between his thumb and index finger! I’ve seen plenty of gushers, but the sound of that dull, five-inch blade piercing his thumb muscle is what I’ll never forget! Just talking about it gives me chills."
Chef: Joe Macchia, Biblio
Instrument of Injury: Hot oil
"Six years ago, I was cooking in a high-volume restaurant in the West Village. I had a sauté pan smoking and was reaching for a pancetta-wrapped pork loin to render. Instead of killing the flame, like I should have, I took the pan in my hand to the seasoning tray and accidentally knocked the pork off the tray. I lunged to snatch it before it hit the floor, and flicked my other wrist, causing smoking-point canola oil to cascade down the inside of my arm. It immediately looked like an Elio’s pizza fresh out of the oven."
Chef: Luis Aguilar, Tacombi
Instrument of Injury: Electrified floodwaters
"I was setting up for service while working in Playa del Carmen on a sunny day. Dark clouds rolled in suddenly and the rain came so fast that it streamed down the streets like a river — one of the craziest storms ever. One of our waiters ran downstairs to the street level where the bar was to try to close the restaurant. The water was already flooding up to his thighs and upon his first step in the water, he got electrocuted, passed out in the water, and began to drown. A man from the neighboring business jumped in to save him and also got electrocuted. The shopkeep from across the street ran over and reached in with an old broom to grab them and was finally able to pull them out. They survived, but our waiter’s big toe was blown off by the electricity."
Some of these stories were edited for space and clarity. Extra words were taken out; all of the terror was left intact.