Chefs, home cooks recall times when things got a little scary
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 9:18 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 9:18 a.m.
Spend enough time around kitchen professionals – or enthusiastic home cooks – and eventually you unearth the bones lurking in their pantry. All those perfectly presented plates and flawless feasts come at a price, often paid in blood, sometimes just enormous headache.
We've gathered some of those horror stories this Halloween, trophies if you will. Let the following tales of terror serve as a cautionary reminder: Never take your eye off the blade.
Some like it hot
Tyson Amick, owner of Grits & Glory Supper Club
I was working at a private club back in 2000. We had our annual oyster roast in November, and we rented some oyster roasters that got so hot that they were boiling about 80 gallons of water dry every 10 minutes.
I ended pulling up one of the bushel baskets and dumping about a gallon of boiling water in my shoe. It melted one of my plastic Birkenstocks into what looked like chewing gum.
I was out of work for four months.
Susan Sheneman Brooks, Wilmington
Had just moved into our new house when we had a couple over to eat. Beautiful dinner, nice conversation, ready for dessert. Went in kitchen and put on coffee.
Back at the table for a few moments, waiting for the coffee. Returned to kitchen and, to my horror, saw coffee all over the counter and hardwood floor. I had forgotten to put the coffee carafe under the filter of the machine.
Pulled out some after-dinner wine and left the coffee cups in the kitchen. Walking out, one of our dinner guests remarked, "I could have sworn I smelled coffee!"
8 is enough
Jameson Chavez, chef de cuisine at Manna
Right before service, our fish came in really late, about 6 p.m. on a Friday. We needed that fish – already had tickets on the board.
I was back there cutting, and at the time the light above the cutting station was out. On my very first cut with the filet knife – it was the way I was holding my finger, I guess – I came in at the rib cage at the bottom of the fish and proceeded to slice my middle left finger down to the bone.
I finished out the service and went and got stitches that night. Turned out to be eight stitches.
Use the plastic
Sara Copenhaver, Marc's on Market
Vail, Colo., Jan. 2, 1996. We kissed two days before, Mark and I, a little romance.
We were carrying out the hot fryer grease down the stairs out the back deck. It was snowy and icy and I slipped and fell off the deck, which had no railing, into a trash can, pouring the hot, hot grease all over my arm in the process.
Had to go to the Vail Valley Medical Center, and the most embarrassing part is, when they went to take my pants off (they were icing my arm, my pants had gotten all wet and I was getting cold), they saw that my chef pants were held up with a plastic-wrap belt.
Chef Woo Chin, aka Jerry Donovan of St. James
While teaching a recent Chinese cooking class, I decided to show off by using my Chinese cleaver (not a cheapo mind you) to cut up a chicken.
The problem was that I had forgotten to sharpen it. I managed to slice not one but two fingers. Band-Aids didn't work and it was a bloody mess.
Thankfully, one of my students was an RN who bandaged me up so that I could continue my lesson.
Remember that roast?
Mary Lou & Bob Miller, Sunset Beach
We were hosting a dinner party for some out-of-town friends. I was roasting a 12-pound, bone-in rib roast. Most of the guests had arrived.
The roast was in the oven and we were sipping cocktails in the family room. Our out-of-town friends called to say they would be an hour late. No problem. I removed the roast from the oven and left it on the counter with a foil cover. I returned to the family room.
About 30 minutes later I returned to the kitchen to put the meat back in the oven. I was shocked to find our dog, a black lab/Irish setter, with the roast on the floor, her paws wrapped around the meat enjoying a special treat.
I picked up the roast, cleaned it and returned it to the oven. We all enjoyed a wonderful dinner.
Ten years later, I finally told our friends the real story.
Kirsten Mitchell, chef at Cameo 1900
I still have nightmares about this, actually.
It was my second week working at Disney. I worked on their wood-fired grill. Out of one kitchen we cooked for one fine dining restaurant, a casual restaurant, a bar and room service.
I had tickets just falling on the floor and lined up on both of my ticket racks. The expediter was yelling at me to get all these pieces of meat off, and I looked down and my fire was out. I had probably 75 pieces of meat on this wood-fired grill, and no fire.
I just panicked, running around looking for wood. Anyway, I decided I was just going to cry. Basically, I stopped the entire production for four restaurants that evening so we could restart the fire.
One of those days
Yanni Papanikolaou, cook at The Greeks Authentic Mediterranean Deli
This is possibly the most surreal day in our life as a family owning a restaurant.
Started off as a regular day at work. The lunch rush came in; there were about five people in the kitchen and 100 in the dining room. My dad had just hired the kitchen staff; we had trained them for about two weeks.
At some point, French fries go out. I hear a customer in the front of the house say, "These (expletive) fries are frozen." It was a rather large lady. I told her no problem, and took them back. She sits down and breaks the booth. I'm starting to sweat. Full house, 10 tickets waiting and a customer just broke the booth.
I go to the back to get a prep guy for new fries, and here is my prep guy is speaking to the vegetables: "You are such a beautiful tomato." He was French, too.
Ticket comes in, fruit salad. Fruit salad goes out, fruit salad comes back in. Back then we were using frozen fruit salad – big mistake. Our worker literally pried off a piece, put it on a plate and sent it out.
I shut down, went to the back and started smashing my BlackBerry. To top it off, my ex-wife was calling me to ask, "When we are going crib shopping?"
Margaret Reed, Wilmington
Back in the day, my mother gave me an Osterizer blender.
I decided to make a holiday salad that required grinding cranberries and orange peel using this wonderful new time-saver. I was so pleased not to have to dig out the old-fashioned grinder and clamp it to the counter for this task.
After a few whizzes, I turned the blender off to check on the progress. Unfortunately, I was too hasty in removing the lid to look inside and was met by a face full of cranberries and orange peel – the mixture was dripping from the ceiling, the white kitchen cabinets and my glasses.
The cleanup was daunting. So much for saving time!
Vickie Robbs, Leland
Back before I knew my way around the kitchen, I decided to make some sort of shrimp dish that called for one clove of garlic.
I had never used fresh garlic, had no clue as to what a clove meant, so, I broke up the entire bulb.
Oh, and I had invited a co-worker of my husband, and his wife, for supper. They were two hours late arriving and let's say they weren't bothered by vampires in their near future. I didn't apologize for supper, either, since they were so late!
Jerry Rouse, owner of Jerry's Food, Wine & Spirits
I can't remember which hurricane, but there was no power so we hired generators.
We put everything together successfully to pull off a wedding reception the day after a bad hurricane, and carried it off. It was the biggest pain in my (butt), it was like doing eight caterings in one, a lot of stress.
All I can remember is I never want to do another one in a hurricane.
Fire and ice
Samantha Smith, owner of Sugar on Front Street
Years ago, I worked at a restaurant in downtown Wilmington. My job involved plating soups, salads and desserts, along with some cooking.
I hadn't been working there very long when one of the line cooks thought it would be funny to chuck an ice cube at me as I was preparing to drop an order of fries into the fryer. The cube missed me and hit the oil, sending a stream of oil right onto my leg and burning me through my apron and jeans. Being that it was a Friday night I kept working – we were busy – and my leg felt worse and worse!
By the time I got out that night and got home, I had to cut my jeans off because the denim had welded on to the mega-burn, leaving me with a huge, hand-sized wound. I still have a crop circle scar to this day!
Alexander Succop, chef at Aubriana's
It was in the Bahamas, as the captain and chef of a 44-foot catamaran.
Had a Farberware chef knife, real flimsy, from WalMart. Scored a coconut from the locals. I had watched how they chopped it open – just held it and, with a machete, chopped it open.
I was sitting on the boat trying to do that when a boat full of girls goes by. I look over and completely come down right on my finger. I had to wiggle the blade out of the bone. No hospital on the island, probably not even a nurse, so I went with the go-to duct tape and paper towels.
Sorted that one out, and kept the finger.
Anita Thomas, StarNews publisher's assistant
I'll bet millions of other new cooks have had this same experience. As a newlywed who knew how to cook a great breakfast and not much else, I wanted to try my hand at Southern fried chicken. What was I thinking?
I lowered a fry basket of seasoned chicken parts into very hot oil and, man, in no time, they were golden brown and gorgeous.
And raw and bloody inside!
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