Published March 08, 2012
Ever wonder what goes on in restaurant kitchens?
You’d like to think that everyone is washing their hands all day long, the food is being prepared on sterile countertops with a Mary Poppins-type inspector overseeing everything.
In reality, some kitchens hold deep, dark and very dirty secrets.
I once worked in a restaurant where a waiter dropped a basket of rolls on the floor. They slid down several feet to the drain in the middle of the kitchen. What the waiter did next has haunted me to this day. He picked up the rolls, one by one, and put them back in the basket. Despite my objections, he took that bread right out to a table, telling me he didn’t want to waste them.
This isn't meant to turn you off from ever going to a restaurant again, and all eateries have to adhere to regular health inspections.
But almost every restaurant worker you'll meet has some stories like this.
I found a chef who was willing to share years of cringe-worthy stories. Rob Burmeister is an executive chef at a New York City restaurant. He also has competed in several food competitions, including the Food Network’s “Chopped”.
Burmeister says in his 25-years on the job he learned everything he knows, “watching and working with many chefs all over the country. Some great and some horrible.”
Burmeister shared some tales of the dark side of what he says he's witnessed on what goes on in kitchens.
Steak Not Exactly Cooked to Order
"A celebrity musician came in on a busy night to a Massachusetts restaurant where I worked. He wanted sirloin steak, which wasn’t on the menu. So the chef sent a grill worker over to borrow a steak from a neighboring restaurant. Irate, he came back to a board full of orders that seemed endless. The celebrity was complaining about how long it was taking and giving the waitress a hard time.
"Finally the chef screamed at the grill guy to get the steak out to the table. The grill guy said you want it? The chef screamed an expletive and said to put the steak on the plate. The cook followed that by dropping his pants, taking the hot steak off the grill and put it between his butt cheeks and plopped it on a plate. A half hour later, the celebrity came into the kitchen and asked, ‘who made my steak?’ The cook said he did. The musician said it was the best steak he’s had in a long time. The cook responded, ‘I bet it was.’ He left and the kitchen staff started to dry heave."
Sandwich Oscar the Grouch-Style
"At one restaurant, a chef was annoyed that a bartender was bothering him about his staff meal. He asked for a steak sandwich. When the chef couldn’t take it anymore, he reached into the garbage and took out a steak sandwich that a customer didn’t finish. He then put it on a plate with fries. The bartender had no clue and came in later and said it was fantastic."
"A dessert chef at a Florida restaurant was putting what we thought were edible flowers on the plate. After a few days, I saw her outside clipping flowers from somebody’s yard and spraying them with bug repellant. I said, ‘what the hell are you doing?’ She replied that they are full of bugs. I told her OK, but you're not using those for the desserts. She said of course, she was. She had been doing it for weeks. Needless to say, she was fired."
"I worked with one guy who hated when people ordered grilled vegetables in the middle of a service because they didn’t like the other vegetarian options on the menu. So every time we got an order, he would slather bacon grease all over the vegetables before grilling them."
Caught With Pants Down
"In one New York restaurant there was a chef who was a heavy drinker. One day he was so hung over, he forgot to put pants on. He worked half a lunch shift with just an apron on. Nobody said a word."
"At this same place, another drunken chef was working an outdoor grill. At one point, he cut his finger and put a band aid on. When things got really busy, he made a tuna and cheese wrap. 10 minutes later, a customer bit into the wrap and found a surprise. He walked up to the cook and showed him what he had found in his meal. The cook said, ‘Oh, I was looking for that,’ and picked out the band aid."
Slicer's Other Meat
"I had just starting working at a new place. I had to slice something on the cold cut slicer. I asked them when was the last time they had taken it apart to clean it? They said it hadn’t been cleaned in months. So I took it apart and found a dead mouse stuck between the blade and the motor."
"I was working a carving station slicing a steamship roast at a wedding, when the mother of the bride asked for a rare piece. I went to slice her a piece when I must have cut a hidden artery or something. A stream of blood shot out all over her dress."
"At one catering company, prime rib was one of the choices for a particular party. We cooked a lot, but unfortunately the guests ordered more than we had. That same night, a nearby restaurant had a prime rib special. We were 10 prime ribs shy (a whole table). I called and ordered five prime rib dinners to go. I grabbed the dinners, cut the prime ribs down the middle and served 10 dinners. I even used their potato and veggies.
"I was allergic to a certain cleaner we used in the kitchen. I had a line cook that hated me at the time. On busy Saturdays, for some reason I always went into anaphylactic shock and had to use my EpiPen (emergency treatment of severe allergic reactions). I never knew why. I thought it was heat and stress. It wasn’t. One morning I caught the kid spraying my chef clothes with it."