Philadelphia chef almost loses hand to pasta machine: 'I just heard a crunch'

If this isn’t an advertisement for pre-packaged pasta, nothing is.

On Sunday, Philadelphia-based chef Joe Cicala got his hand crushed by a pasta sheeter after he accidentally let his fingers linger a little too close to the machine’s rolling apparatus.

Cicala, a chef and restaurateur who specializes in Italian cuisine at Philly’s Le Virtu and Brigantessa dining establishments, told Billy Penn that the incident occurred on Sunday night, right in the middle of Mother’s Day dinner service at Le Virtu. He was in the basement experimenting with a new recipe for fresh pasta — using charred wheat berries and grano arso flour — but the consistency of the dough was too sticky and wasn’t feeding correctly into the machine.

“So, like an idiot, I reached in and tried to force it through the machine,” Cicala. “And then I just heard a crunch. Like a handful of popcorn exploded. It was so gross.”


That crunch — the one that sounded like a “handful of popcorn” — was actually the sound of Cicala’s fingers getting crushed between the machine’s rollers. Cicala managed to shut off the sheeter before more of his hand was sucked inside, but, at that point, he was still stuck inside the machine. Worse yet, no one could hear his cries for help from the basement.

Eventually, Cicala claims he was able to knock his iPhone off a nearby table and ask Siri to call for help. The paramedics arrived about a half hour after the incident occurred, but they couldn’t free the chef with a hydraulic separator, or their “jaws of life”-type equipment. Instead, they decided to administer morphine, throw the machine in reverse, and hope that Cicala’s fingers would roll back through the quarter-inch gap they were sucked into.

Lucky for everyone involved, the idea worked, and doctors were able to reattach the crushed fingers at a nearby hospital.

“Thanks [to] the first responders and the outstanding trauma hand surgeons at Jefferson Hospital,” Cicala later posted to Facebook, along with a photo of the oxycodone he was prescribed for the pain. “Everything is reattached with minimal nerve damage. Follow up surgeries will be scheduled this week, but needless to say I will be out of commission for six weeks.”

Surprisingly, Cicala’s harrowing ordeal hasn’t soured him on his pasta-making profession, even despite doctors telling him he may never have feeling in his pinky ever again. Billy Penn reports that Cicala plans to start back at work in more of an administrative capacity until his hand is back to (semi) normal, and then it’s right back to cooking.


And as for that experimental pasta he was working on? He originally planned to serve it at a James Beard event in NYC, which has been rescheduled to accommodate his recovery.