Cooking can be dangerous, as anyone who has spent much time in a kitchen can attest. Now consider the hazards of a career surrounded by flames, superheated liquids and sharp objects. So we queried some notable area chefs (Ricardo Zarate! Michael Voltaggio! Eric Greenspan!) for the stories behind their worst kitchen-related injuries. (They also sent us many interesting photos, but we'll spare you those.) Turn the page.
“When I was still in training, I was nervous about service and forgetting many basics. So I was cutting a carrot, and I held it the wrong way, and when I chopped, the carrot slipped from my hand and I cut my finger — so I lost a little piece of the tip. To stop the bleeding, I put my finger in salt. … It hurt terribly. But it stopped the bleeding, so I gloved my hand and continued to cook.”
Jet Tila (the Charleston):
“[A]bout eight years ago while sharpening my Japanese knives. Took nine stitches, almost cut it off. Went right back to work and never skipped a beat.”
“Frostbite, which I got on a stage in Aspen. I was doing a cooking competition against Rick Bayless from Chicago and I was filling up a container with liquid nitrogen and my thumb was inside the container, and you can touch it, like it usually doesn't hurt you, but my thumb had gotten numb from the vapors from the nitrogen, so I didn't realize that my thumb was actually just in it the entire time I was filling up the container and I ended up with my thumb turning completely black and half of it eventually, like, rotting off and so forth, which I've got some pretty interesting pictures of. … I didn't even realize that I had seriously injured myself. And I was up there and then toward the end of the show my thumb felt like it wasn't even there and I look at it and it's just already starting to, like, turn colors and this and that and I had pretty serious frostbite.”
Ramon Arvizu (La Casita Mexicana):
“One that I remember the most is when I burned my hand with a hot, boiling albondigas soup. I was serving a soup to go in a Styrofoam container when I accidentally got distracted and pressed the container, spilling the hot, boiling soup all over my hand.”
David LeFevre (Manhattan Beach Post):
“I was using a hand blender for an aioli and there was a bunch in the blade compartment. So I unplugged the machine and used my finger to remove the excess aioli. Right as I did it another cook set down a Robocoup and he plugged in the handblender cord. Sooooo it turned on while my finger was in the blade compartment. I had five or six cuts on the first two digits of my index finger. I'll never forget the feeling of the handblender jolting in my one hand while my finger was caught on the other hand.”
Christian Page (Short Order):
“On the first day of opening to the public, we were overstaffed — as kitchens typically are when they first launch. There were literally too many cooks in the kitchen and it didn't help that front-of-house staff members were also weaving through the space. Amidst the frenzy, a front-of-house staffer bumped into a cook as he was removing a sheet pan lined with sizzling bacon (and bacon grease) from the hot oven. As fate would have it, I was standing right next to the cook when this collision occurred. I don't like to button the top few buttons of my shirts, so of course the scalding bacon grease poured down my chest. Because it was the first day, I felt compelled to appear strong and brave in front of the crew, so I continued to let it burn. The worst part was peeling off the shirt from my burnt skin later that night.”
“Worst one I can remember, I was cooking in New York City, I was on the line. Paul Leibrandt was chef, I was sous chef. It was right after we left Bouley and we were trying to do some stupid creative molecular gastronomy crap in, like, this little bitty kitchen. That was an absolute nightmare. We were just gettin' slammed and so I had a duck breast rendering in the oven in a pan and I was super busy so I reached into the oven and I pulled the duck breast out, served it … forgot that the pan was in the oven. So now I have a pan in the oven, filled with duck fat in a 400-degree oven for about three hours. Forgot it was there. So, at the end of the service, I open up the oven and I saw this pan in there, so I went to grab it real quick. Well, I didn't realize that it was filled with molten hot duck fat, so it kind of tsunamied over the edge and hit me on the palm of my hand and from the center of my wrist all the way to the top of my thumb, the skin peeled completely off. And I'm a loud guy, but I don't think you've ever heard somebody yell 'fuck' as loud as I yelled 'fuck' at that moment. The entire dining room was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?'”
You might notice there are no stories from female chefs: This wasn't for lack of trying on our part. Regaling graphic tales about injuries clearly must be a guy thing.
Follow Jim Thurman on Twitter @JThur01.