The Exorcist. Carrie. Saw XVII (or whatever number we're up to now). Think those movies are bloody, gruesome, and downright terrifying? Well, they've got nothing on these chefs' tales of their most horrifying moments in the kitchen! Squirting blood, horrible burns, bugs pouring out of the walls… if you're squeamish, consider yourself warned.
1. A Slip of the Knife
“The grossest thing I [experienced] was when I was slicing a jiggly rare entire prime rib all night in the glass show window at a steakhouse. When I got to the last 16 ounces and needed two eight-ounce servings, I tried to hold it upright and steady at the base with my left hand and went right down the middle — you don't want to saw — with an 11-inch sharpened blade. I felt a pulsating heartbeat in my hand and everyone was screaming because blood was squirting over their heads like a fountain. I had cut the part between your thumb and pointer finger. A waitress drove me to the ER singing Britney Spears as I held [my hand] over my head.” —Tina Contes, Chief “Confectioneer” and General Manager of Dough in Tampa, Florida
2. Blood and Burns
“A lot of accidents happen in the kitchen all the time. One time that stands out to me the most, that still makes me want to throw up, is when I was first starting out in London. One of the servers was unloading wine glasses from the cleaning tray and ended up dropping the tray and all of the glasses came tumbling out. Instead of letting them crash to the ground, the server tried to catch the wine glasses and ended up shattering many of them against his body. He had bloody scratches all over his body including his wrist that was sliced so bad, the skin peeled back and looked like a half peeled banana! My colleague and I rushed over to help him and since my adrenaline was kicked in, it didn’t bother me that we were literally pulling shards of glass out of this man’s skin. We bandaged him up with towels as best we could and rushed him to the hospital, where they told us that we did a wonderful job taking care of him. After it was over and my adrenaline had gone away, I felt so nauseous from the sight that was now stuck in my head.
Another time, also when I was working in London, there was a cook working with bacon fat in order to crisp something. While he was working on the stove, another cook bent down to get something out of the oven and at the same time the cook on the stove lifted the pan filled with bacon fat. The cook dealing with the oven accidentally bumped the cook holding the pan filled with hot bacon fat and the pan flew out of the cook’s hands and the bacon fat splashed into his face. It looked like something right out of a horror movie — his face was pretty badly burned and looked like it was peeling his skin off, which it probably was. He was obviously rushed to the hospital... and made a full recovery, thankfully!” —Chef Ricardo Zarate of Rosaliné in West Hollywood, California
3. A Mummy and a Halloween Gag
“I remember with love a coworker from Arzak [restaurant in in San Sebastián, Spain]. He was a nice guy: intrepid, electric, and a hardcore smoker. One day he didn’t show up in the kitchen and we were all scared because we thought something had happened to him. After an hour of calls, we managed to contact him and in a tearful voice he tells us the following: 'This morning when I was smoking a joint I dropped a boiling cup of coffee on my genitals. I've been in the shower for two hours without being able to take the water stream from there and I do not know if it hurts from the burn or the cold water, man.' The next morning he showed up to the restaurant and when he took off his pants in the locker room to put on his uniform, we all started laughing because he was like a mummy down there. Poor guy, he can’t stand the smell of coffee since that day.
The second one happened in a restaurant where I was the sous chef in Madrid. It had been a very strong Friday Halloween night service. We had been given 400 covers among six cooks and we were screwed for six hours. When we started cleaning the kitchen I asked who wanted a Coke and of course they all said yes. I went to the store room and prepared some cold glasses filled with ice and I added soy sauce instead of Coca-Cola. I decorated them with a slice of lemon. When I got to the kitchen, I shouted, 'Who wants a Coke?' They threw themselves upon me like thirsty dogs. At the first drink, a companion began to gag and another girl followed him, they spit everything on the ground. It was disgusting! They wanted to kill me. I never thought that I would have to clean up all the damage, but I still laugh every Halloween thinking about it!” —Chef Oscar Cabezas of Teleferic Barcelona in Walnut Creek, California
4. A Meaty Slice
“Back when I worked at A. Sabella's restaurant [in San Francisco] there was a cook slicing cheese on a meat slicer without the metal guard that protects your hand. I heard a screeching scream and came down the line to find that the cook had sliced off his whole palm of his hand. Blood was shooting all over the kitchen and spinning off of the meat slicer. I put a towel on his hand and then found the whole palm of his hand stuck to the inside of the meat slicer. I then grabbed his palm, put it on ice, and we sent him to the hospital. Probably the most gory bloody thing I've ever seen in the kitchen.” —Chef Matt Dambrosi of Mezcalito in San Francisco, California
5. Burned Down and Bugged Out
“When I was working at Plum in Oakland [CA], the BART police officer that shot Oscar Grant had just been acquitted on all counts of his murder and a riot broke out. We had to lock all guests in the restaurant and not let anyone in or out. One of the bartenders tried to get to the front of the bar to tell people to keep moving, and had his head cracked open with a ball[-peen] hammer. Around the corner, Hawker Fare put their garbage cans in the doorway to block people from breaking their windows. This backfired because the rioters ended up setting the garbage cans on fire, the entire front of the restaurant burnt down, and chef/owner James Syhabout was forced to close for a while due to construction.
I also use to work at a fine dining restaurant a long time ago that had high standards, but the building was old. One time something broke the wall in the basement and cockroaches like a scene from Men in Black started coming out. We then got a strong blowtorch and kicked the wall in and used it on the cockroaches.” —Chef David Baron of Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette in Marina, California
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