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6 Chefs Confess Their Most Horrifying Kitchen Disasters (Rodents in the Sauce and Scalding Oil Overflow!)
Sometimes a burnt meal is the least of their problems.
You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors—kitchen doors, that is. When dining at a restaurant, you'll savor a beautifully plated entrée and indulge in an Instagram-worthy dessert without knowing about the blood, sweat, and (sometimes) tears that went into making it.
Even rock star chefs mess up in the kitchen occasionally, or sometimes a kitchen disaster occurs that's beyond their control. Although these mishaps may have been embarrassing or horrifying at the moment, these six bold chefs reveal their most catastrophic kitchen fails.
1. Ruined Ravioli
“It was our friends and family opening night at Virtu on July 12, 2013. I was making duck egg ravioli: the big raviolo with a creamy delicious ricotta filling with a duck egg yolk plopped in the middle, so when the guest cuts into it the yolk runs. So delicious, right? I was making all the ravioli and passing them to one of my cooks, explicitly giving the direction to coat the pan with semolina flour so the ravioli don't stick. I was so stressed out about opening my own restaurant for the first time that I wasn’t paying as close of attention as I should’ve to what my rookie cook was doing. I finished my ravioli, cleaned my work area, and began greeting the guests coming in. After a few hands shaken, hugs, and kisses I headed back to the kitchen fully confident that we were going to have a great night. There were three of us in the kitchen—me, my sous chef, and a cook—and we were so excited when the first ticket came in through the printer with ravioli as the first course. I open up my refrigerator door and was greeted with a hotel pan filled with all the ravioli piled on top of each other without a drop of flour in between! I tried to pry one off the top and the entire pile came up with it. They were all stuck together and breaking with yolk pouring all over the place! I swear my life flashed before my eyes. I had spent three hours making these things to just throw them away, and it made me nauseous. Needless to say, I had to 86 our very first order on the very first ticket from the very first night, and then had to explain it to the 115 excited people that were waiting for the same thing. Lesson learned.
The very next day, our official opening to the public, I made the ravioli from start to finish by myself. As for that cook that I should have been watching: he never showed up for his second day.” – Gio Osso, Chef & Owner of Virtù Honest Craft in Scottsdale, AZ
2. Oil Spill
“For Christmas 2014, I volunteered to make dinner for the entire fam. My uncle has a pretty sweet setup at his place: outdoor patio with grill, burners, flattop—the works. I decided, what better way to impress the fam than with a whole fried fish? I had to create a makeshift fryer, so I grabbed a large pot, filled it with oil, and got it on the burner. I tried frying off some yucca chips first, but the oil just wasn't getting hot enough. I didn't have a thermometer, so finding the right temperature was through trial and error. I decided to put a lid on the frying pot to help accelerate the rise of temperature. Once I thought the oil was hot enough, I dropped the fish. The oil was too hot. The moisture from the fish made the oil bubble so much, that it started to completely overflow the pot. I had to stand there helplessly and watch as 4 gallons of scalding oil poured all over my uncle’s kitchen and furniture...while everybody watched. By far the most embarrassing kitchen experience of my life.” – Brian Nasajon, Chef & Owner of Beaker & Gray in Miami
3. Flour Bomb
“During a busy moment in the kitchen, I ended up covering the entire kitchen—and staff—in flour while using the mixing bowl! This kitchen disaster occurred about two years ago at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill. The whole kitchen rushed over to help turn it off. Looking back, this was a very funny moment. Next time, I will remember to make sure the mixing bowl is on low before turning it on!” – Wenford Patrick Simpson, Executive Chef at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York City
4. Shortcake Meltdown
“New Year's Eve is a pretty stressful night. There's a lot of built-up pressure and expectation. Chefs and kitchens are unusually tense, and that's when stupid mistakes happen. New Year's Eve 2008, at [New York City’s] Mermaid Inn, was a perfect example of a dessert gaffe. I had 160 reservations, so I had to plan to sell 90 strawberry shortcakes. At The Mermaid Inn, we didn't even normally offer a dessert menu—we gave away mini chocolate puddings for free. But, since it was New Year's Eve, I made these individual strawberry shortcakes. I had about 100 shortcakes cooling on racks, the cream, and I had the strawberries macerating. I asked a prep cook to slice all the shortcakes in half and moved on to something else. I came back to the shortcakes, and this cook sure enough had them all in half, but not in the way that I was expecting. He cut them right down the middle, split-top style. I almost killed that kid. We put the shortcakes together in the split-top style, and it actually worked out fine. There was a moment, though, where I had serious doubts.” – Laurence Edelman, Executive Chef at Left Bank in New York City
5. Waiter, There's Something in My Sauce
“I was sous chef at Quisisana Resort, deep in the woods of Maine. One day a week we had profiteroles on the lunch dessert menu, which the waiters would assemble to order. They'd scoop ice cream into the pre-baked choux puffs, then ladle hot chocolate sauce over and run them to the tables. The sauce was held in a metal bain marie, over a low flame in the pastry kitchen. Toward the end of service we heard a scream and a clatter of metal on concrete from the pastry kitchen. We ran to see what had happened, and a waiter was holding up the ladle from the sauce, and clinging to the ladle was a dead, chocolate-covered little mouse who had somehow fallen in and drowned in the sauce. Nobody had noticed it in the sauce throughout service, or so we thought. As we cleaned it up a waiter came in and said, 'You know, I keep feeling a lump in the sauce as I stirred it each time I served, but I just kept thinking it was a lump of unmelted chocolate, so I kept stirring.' After service, the floor and kitchen staff huddled and vowed to never, ever tell Jane—the owner—about it happening. As far as I know, she still doesn't.” – Erica Wides, Consulting Creative Chef & Partner at Rosemary and Vine, in Rye, NY
6. False Alarm
“During prep between lunch and dinner service at 3 p.m., the Ansul system went off unexpectedly—this is the fire extinguisher above the stoves system that goes off automatically in the event of a fire. However, there wasn't a fire so they had no idea why it went off…with toxic white liquid foam pouring from the ceiling onto the stoves. Everything they had been prepping for dinner service was ruined. All the food was trashed and the firemen automatically came. The wood-burning grill was on wheels, so they rolled it outside on the patio for service. They quickly changed the dinner menu into things that they could pull off without heat, like cold salads, slaws, and grilled meats. Meanwhile, a second disaster was on the horizon: a family was hosting a rehearsal dinner and one of the older aunts passed out in the dining room. They called 911—and the same firemen came and wheeled the woman away.” – Cathy Whims, Chef & Owner of Nostrana in Portland, OR