As it does, Halloween is fast approaching, which means it’s time for Grub Street’s favorite post of the year: Our annual roundup of truly terrifying stories from deep within the world of professional kitchens. We asked every chef, cook, and dishwasher we could think of to tell us their most horrible tales of kitchen life gone awry — then ranked the most excruciating accounts based just how cringe-inducing they really are. The stories here might not be spooky, but they’re certainly gruesome. Butchering accidents? Burns? Melting skin? Read on for the gory details — if you dare.
Chef: Shaun Hergatt, Juni
Instrument of Injury: Duck fat
When I was chef de cuisine at the Ritz Carlton in Sydney, I had a whole tray of hot, cooked duck in my arms. As I was walking through the kitchen with it, the executive sous chef spilled a bunch of duck fat, which I slipped on and got terribly burnt. I had a massive bubble on my right arm, but I still worked until 1 a.m. Then, I went straight into the emergency room, where they treated me for the burn until about 4 am. I went to work the next day, though, of course. The burn took a month and a half to completely heal, and I still have a massive scar.
Chef: Anita Lo, Annisa
Instrument of Injury: Wusthof paring knife
I have a Z scar on my right pinkie finger (it doesn’t even straighten anymore!). When I was 11, I was carving a pumpkin with my mother’s Wusthof paring knife. I was trying to make the first cut into the top of the gourd by the stem, and I was pushing really hard — the pumpkin didn’t give — and my hand slid down over the blade of the knife. I remember nervously laughing with my sister as the blood spurted out like a timed fountain to the rhythm of my heartbeat. When I found I couldn’t bend it anymore, I was taken to the hospital, where they reattached the tendon. The doctor had used a shirt button to hold it in place, so I had a little button tied to the top of my nail for a month or so.
Chef: Jimmy Bradley, The Red Cat and The Harrison
Instrument of Injury: Ice-cream machine
My pastry chef at Bryant Park was trying to un-jam the hopper of a large ice-cream machine, but mistakenly did not unplug the machine. She was turning the internal wheel that churns the cream into ice cream, when the motor started up with her hand inside the hopper. This was an absolute horror story. She broke a few fingers and tore up her skin. Her injuries required many stitches, an operation or two, and wearing a cast afterwards for months and months.
Chef: Giuseppe Tentori, GT Fish & Oyster (Chicago)
Instrument of Injury: Knife
Early in my career, when I was 15 years old, I was butchering a sturgeon. The fish was very, very cold and I couldn’t feel my hand. I noticed there was a lot of blood on the cutting board, but I just thought it was from the fish. When I finally realized I had cut my finger badly, I didn’t want to cry like a baby, so I taped it, trashed half of the fish (because it had my blood on it), finished butchering the rest, and then went to the hospital.
Chef: Paul Shaked, The Cleveland
Instrument of Injury: Meat slicer
I was working at my dad’s restaurant, Sofia’s of Little Italy. I used to man the pizza station and I had run out of pepperoni. The slicer they use is very big, as it’s built to slice whole legs of prosciutto — maybe an 18-inch blade. You have to use the clamp to hold the meat in place so that your hand is never in danger. Obviously, while I was busy, I totally ignored this ‘rule.’ After receiving an order and momentarily looking away, I looked down to realize that I had finished the pepperoni stick and sliced the top of my pointed finger off! It would not stop bleeding for at least a few hours. I basically had to tie it up, put on three or four more latex gloves, and finish out the double I was working. But I cut the top off in a way that made it impossible to stitch because of the diameter of the wound. The top of my finger was flat for about five months after that. I later learned that I came very close to cutting a nerve, which would have been pretty bad.
Chef: Robin Song, Hog & Rocks (San Francisco)
Instrument of Injury: Hot bone marrow
On a busy Friday night, my sous chef was on vacation and my kitchen was under-staffed — no line cook and no expeditor. At the peak of the rush, around 8:30 p.m., the tickets were flying and guests were all looking for bone marrow. To maximize space in our small kitchen, I put one too many bones on a tray in the oven to roast. The bones usually take about ten minutes, and at that time in service, every second counts in the kitchen. As the ticket machine continued to scream at me, I went to pull the bones out of the oven when the tray tilted and poured scalding hot beef fat down the arm holding the tray. I couldn’t afford the time to drop the bones, so screaming in pain, I hung on for dear life. I set the bones down, wiped the fat and what was left of my skin off with a towel, and continued plating.
Chef: Ed Cotton, Sotto 13
Instrument of Injury: Knife
I was working at a restaurant here in New York City. One of our line cooks thought it would be funny to scare another one of our cooks in the walk-in refrigerator while organizing his shelf. He opened the door and yelled at him, and the cook was so startled that he swatted at him. But, while doing that, the cook who had gone in to scare him had a knife and slashed his co-worker’s wrist … He needed staples and stitches, narrowly escaped nerve damage, and now spots a nasty scar across his wrist. I will always remember that day.
Chef: Michele Mazza, Trattoria Il Mulino
Instrument of Injury: An industrial-size rack of aluminum foil
One of the sous chefs was reaching for a large industrial-size rack of aluminum foil — the thing must’ve weighed at least 15 pounds — and he lost his grip. The box fell on his arm, razor side first, and the cut went down so deep you could see the veins in his arm. He ended up needing 75 stitches. I’ve also seen one of the kitchen staff get distracted cutting prosciutto and saw a few inches off of his finger. It’s a dangerous place in the kitchen!
Chef: Chris Pandel, The Bristol and Balena (Chicago)
Instrument of Injury: Knife
One evening during service, the senior cook was plating a dessert and it needed sliced banana for the finished plate. I grabbed a fresh banana and began cutting as instructed by the chef. This bonehead proceeded to shove me out of the way, and, while holding a whole banana as if he were Magilla Gorilla, started slicing the banana at arm’s length while I watched his blade run lengthwise along his forearm. And at just the beginning of his hand (starting in between the wrist and the first knuckle of the thumb), he sliced quarter-inch piece of skin that was a half inch wide by the length of his entire left hand.
Chef: Jon Keeley, Gemini Restaurant Group (Chicago)
Instrument of Injury: Steam-jacket kettle
I was working in the banquet department of a hotel in Boston where we did all the stocks in 60-gallon steam jacket kettles that have a drain spout at the bottom of the kettle. My co-worker was draining the 212-degree stock while crouching in front of it like a catcher in baseball. As he was tapping the drain spout to make it go faster, it broke, gushing all the stock out — directly hitting his genitals, legs, and torso! He ripped his clothes off and jumped in a large cooling sink (which is the worst thing to do to a burn), peeling his skin like a tomato. It was the funniest, grossest accident I saw.
Chef: Ernesto Uchimura, Plan Check Kitchen + Bar (Los Angeles)
Instrument of Injury: A fork
Two dishwashers were working a shift together. One was younger and liked to crack jokes at others’ expense, and one was older and more quiet. The older guy ordered some food with his plate and fork in hand, and went to sit down when the younger guy cracked a joke at him. The older guy didn’t like the joke or something, because he took his fork and stabbed the young guy in the eye. Next thing I knew, I heard a scream, so I stepped off the line to investigate to find a trail of blood, which I followed to the dishwasher. It turned out, thankfully, that the fork just missed his eye, and he was stabbed in his lower eye lid — pretty nasty, but fortunately with minimal damage to his eyeball. The cops were called, and funny enough the young dishwasher didn’t want to press charges. The old guy took off, never to be seen again.
Chef: Keeley, Gemini Restaurant Group (Chicago)
Instrument of Injury: Fryer
I was closing down a restaurant in Florida doing the end of the night clean up as normal. Our grill cook was standing on top of the six-burner station cleaning the top of the hoods out. As he was looking up, cleaning, taking two steps to his left … his third step went right in the hot fryolater! It was the worst scream I’ve heard to this day: It pierced the ears of everyone in the restaurant. He immediately fainted backwards onto the floor grasping his now raisin-looking leg. That was the last day we saw him.
Chef: Greg Howe, Richard Sandoval Restaurant Group
Instrument of Injury: Pasta-rolling machine
At another restaurant at one of our hotel properties, one of the cooks was feeding dough into the commercial pasta-rolling machine, and it caught his sleeve. It pulled his arm through the two stone rollers and crushed every bone in his hand and arm. They had to call the engineers to disassemble the machine to get his arm out. Believe it or not, there was no nerve damage, only bone.
Chef: Thiago Silva, Catch
Instrument of Injury: Cake knife
We had just finished a busy service, cleaned up, and headed down to our prep kitchen to make sure it was tidy. Pastry cooks are always the last ones out, so only the night porters were present. One night porter was a little too playful and grabbed what he thought was a metal spatula, but in reality it was my extremely sharp cake knife. He smacked me in my leg, and the other pastry cook who was there (who also thought cake knife was a metal spatula) grabbed his hand so that he would stop. The porter then grabbed the blade with a very tight grip just as the pastry cook yanked it. Just imagine griping the blade of a knife, squeezing it as someone yanks it! Never have I seen blood shoot out of someone’s body like that. His whole thumb was dangling from its socket — awful!