We’re told not to play with fire or knives when we’re kids, but those are the kinds of rules that are made to be broken when you’re a restaurant chef. Kitchens are not safe. How could they be when you’re rushing around with hotter-than-hot sloshing liquids, wielding razor-sharp knives, and chopping rolling carrots at a rapid clip? Chefs have some horror stories to spare, so, just in time for the scariest holiday around, we had them share the most gruesome and nightmarish tales from their time in the kitchen.
Warning: This is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.
1. 10″ Blade.
I was 21 and working at Charlie Trotter’s. I was using a long, 10-inch knife and slicing meat and I turned around to look at something. When I go to put my knife back as I always do, my other hand and index finger were in the way. It’s the first and only time I had a puncture wound; it felt like it went to the bone and I felt it in my whole body, like a record scratching on vinyl. At the time, the chef was like, “I don’t care if you need 100 stitches, you’re going to ruin service, and you’re coming back even if it’s just to clean your station.” So I did.
Also, funny story: One of my friends, Alex Stupak, from Empellón, was working on soup once, when his soup gun caught on something. He ended up filling his clog with boiling 200-degree soup.
—Graham Elliot, chef-owner of Graham Elliot in Chicago, IL
2. You’re Welcome, Mr. President.
I still have all my fingers, let it be known. But I once nicked my finger, when I was cooking for POTUS—as in, Obama—at Sarah Jessica Parker’s house. This is no bullshit. It was a fundraiser when he ran for a second term. There was a knife on the other side of the cutting board, and I reached to move it; when I pulled the cutting board back, I nicked just the top of my index finger with a Japanese knife. Those knives are so sharp that it didn’t even draw blood right away. Then it started to bleed.
—Michael White, chef-owner of the Altamarea Group in New York, NY
3. A Real Knife-Mare.
When I was younger, my father had a very long, thin knife that we always used to call the Killer Knife. One day, when no parents were around, I was goofing with it. I wanted to freak my brothers out and pretend I sliced my hand. Except, I put the back of the blade against my palm right underneath my pinky, and I was like, “Hey guys! Look!” Turns out I had the wrong end; I flipped my palm and cut it wide open. Let’s just say I got the reaction I wanted from them, which of course, was to be horrified. When you have three brothers, you try to figure out different ways to entertain each other, I guess.
—Greg Denton, co-chef-owner of Ox Restaurant in Portland, OR
4. Sushi and Snow Cones.
When I first started making sushi, I was working lunch, the guests were in front of me, and I had this rhythm going sharpening my dull knife on a wet stone. Then somebody said my name. I turned around and the knife went off the edge of the stone and into my middle and pointer finger, under both nails, about a quarter-inch. The knife was so sharp, it just went straight in and straight out—horrifying.
But the worst I ever saw was at Austin City Limits in 2006. We were doing flavored shaved ice, and the chef I brought with me, Masa, was in charge of running the machine itself, basically a spinning razor that you put ice into. At some point, he reached into the machine to grab something, and it cut his entire middle finger off. He was holding it in a bloody towel, and I was like, “Let me see.” When I took the towel away, the top part of the finger came with it.
—Tyson Cole, chef-owner of Uchi and Uchiko in Austin, TX
Check out more chef horror stories from the back of the house.
More from Bon Appetit