14 gruesome accounts of real-life kitchen injuries
It's a hard knock life for chefs. Instead of treated, they get stitched... by a line cook. With no medical experience. Instead of kisses, they get kicked... while they're down, by coworkers who find head wounds hilarious.
A kitchen can be a war zone... which is why we asked cooks around the country to share the story of their most gruesome injury. Read on for all the (literally) gory details.
Bloody fingers and toes
"One of the worst was when I cut my left finger in half with a fish scissor. My fingers were so cold I didn't even feel it, but it was very bloody and messy.
"The other was when we were unloading a delivery, back when Parmigiano cheese was delivered in a box. The box broke from the bottom and the 80lb wheel of cheese broke four of my toes. I was in so much pain that I almost threw up. It was an unfathomable amount of pain." - Ralph Scamardella, TAO Group (New York, NY)
Butchering your thigh
"I was butchering a pig and it had been hanging for like a week and a half, so the skin was really tough. Like leather. I tried to get through the leathery skin in one cut using all my strength, and I did... but I wasn't ready for the release and had my body in the way of the knife. Bam! The knife finished right in my thigh.
"I thought there was no way I just stabbed myself, so I kept working. Then I realized my thigh felt wet. I looked down and I had bled through my apron. Calmly, I put my knife down, walked to the bathroom, pulled my pants down, and blood gushed out. I washed it, bandaged up, and kept working for a couple of hours.
"I remember getting s**t from all the guys on my return from the bathroom after discovering that I did indeed stab myself, in a tone that you would use to woo your baby. 'Did Julia cut themselves?' And I was like, 'No, I stabbed myself, you a**hole.'" - Julia Poplawsky, Dai Due (Austin, TX)
Evil robots and fish spines
"Robot Coupes have a habit of breaking and then being jimmied up with a pen or skewer. I was making a farce meat and the Robot Coupe came to life with my hand in it. I pulled my hand out in a blink and my finger was half hanging off. I stayed to get the line together. I was the only manager in the kitchen that night, so they just stitched my finger back together. I was more worried about the kitchen than about my finger. It still has no feeling.
"Another time I stabbed my finger with a fish spine. Two days later, I saw a red line crawling up my arm. I rushed to the hospital and the line was nearly to my chest. I spent the entire night on antibiotics in the ER and was back to work the next morning. It was scary. Things like that make me very aware of the injuries that really need to be taken care of." - Kris Morningstar, Terrine (Los Angeles, CA)
"I had a steam kettle that I'd hold all my hot sauces in before we'd set up the line. While I was yelling to someone across the kitchen, I cranked up the kettle and one of the pans hit the front and it splashed boiling hot water right in my shoe. They were rubber Birkenstocks. They basically kept this boiling hot water right on top of my foot.
"This happened right before dinner, so I worked my entire shift, and then afterwards I go back to my office and I take off my shoe and sock. The top layer of my foot just came off." - Jeff Bolton, Kachina (Westminster, CO)
When life gives you lemons, it might also give you head wounds
"My favorite was during a stage at this place that used lemon leaves on their soup liner plates. They were running out, so I eagerly volunteered to go grab more from the garden out back. The garden had no lights and the trees were planted in halved wine barrels. I did not know this. Guided by the moonlight, I walked smack into the side of the wine barrel, fell forward, and cracked my forehead on the opposite side of the barrel. Coming back in I had blood pouring down my face and dirt all over my chef coat. I ate s**t and had everybody laughing at me. But I got the leaves and the job. That was awesome. For reals." - Isaac Miller, Maven (San Francisco, CA)
"I had a varicose vein rupture on my leg when I was cooking on the line at Spago. It was an extremely busy night and I started to feel that my sock was wet. I lifted up my pant leg and blood started projectile squirting. I calmly stepped off the line and into a back office, squirting the whole way. The executive sous chef followed me into the office and immediately went into battle triage, cutting my pant leg off at the knee like a pirate. He stuffed gauze in the wound and duct taped my leg closed. I went back on the line and finished an epic night." - Evan Funke, Bucato (Culver City, CA)
Don't leave the oven door open
"Early in my career, someone left a 450-degree convection oven open behind me. I accidentally hit my hand on the door, burning it pretty badly. Leaving a few layers of skin behind was tough, but the worst was yet to come.
"I went to change my bandage after my shift and noticed that the gauze was stuck to the wound like glue. After the intense pain of changing the wrapping, I went to sleep only to wake up with my hand stuck to the bed sheet. I finally had enough and went to the hospital... with the sheet still attached." - Christopher Lee, The Forge (Miami, FL)
Fish are not friends
"I splashed super-hot oil on my left hand while flipping skate wing on my first night as a fish cook. My initial reaction was to wipe my hand with my side towel, causing a large amount of the skin to peel off the top of my hand. I've turned everything away from me ever since, especially skate wing." - Polo Dobkin, Meadowsweet (Brooklyn, NY)
Pressure cooker vs. forearm
"My worst kitchen injury is a tie between when I stabbed myself through my thumb with a cheap sashimi knife in culinary school and that time a pressure cooker exploded and gave me third-degree burns from my knuckles to my elbow. Both times I had to keep working."
- Richie Nakano, Hapa Ramen (San Francisco, CA)
Clams and cooking brandy
"This didn't happen to me, but the worst one I've seen was a sous chef shucking clams on the hot line. He had a rather sharp clam knife go deep into his hand. Since it was mid-service, there wasn’t much he could do. He poured some cooking brandy on the wound and laid his palm directly on the plancha to cauterize it. He took a swig of the brandy, wrapped his hand, and kept on working." - Jorge Hernandez, Qui (Austin, TX)
Lift with your legs
"I was a young cook at a hotel and was working as a saucier. We had just received a 50lb case of frozen bones for stock and I was in a rush, so I didn't really think to lift with my legs. Shortly thereafter I felt pain in my lower back, and the next morning I couldn't walk without collapsing to the floor. I was out of work and bedridden for a month." - Wonny Lee, Hamasaku (Los Angeles, CA)
Don't talk back
"I said something inappropriate to the chef de cuisine and he chased me out of the kitchen. I slipped and fell and broke two bones in my foot. The next morning I went to the doctor and I was back at work that day with a cast on. That was a long time ago. I've since matured a bit, and now set the proper example so I won't ever have to chase a cook out of the kitchen!" - Jonathan Kavourakis, The Stanton Social (New York, NY)
Valentine's Day massacre
"My worst kitchen injury occurred the day before Valentine's going into a fully-booked night. Everyone was scrambling to get prep done for one of the busiest weekends of the year. I pulled out a tray of roasted lamb bones from a 500-degree oven, and as I was carrying it I slipped on a puddle of grease, spilling 500-degree lamb fat all over my arm.
"I immediately threw the tray and grabbed a towel to wipe my arm. As I cleaned my arm the skin just wiped off. Fortunately it didn't hurt too bad because the nerves were all burned. Being the night before Valentine's, the only option was to wrap it up and push through. I'm not sure what hurt more, the three months of treatment at the clinic for second- and third-degree burns, or having to reach in an oven nightly at work while it healed." - Nathan Lemley, parkside (Austin, TX)
Stitches don't equal sick days
"I cut my hand down to the bone with a cheese knife on opening day of Stella Barra in Santa Monica. There was blood everywhere. Without anyone noticing, I had to sneak off to the hospital to get it fixed before service started. I ended up with eight stitches and got back in time to work the entire opening night." - Jeff Mahin, Stella Barra (Los Angeles, CA)
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's National Food and Drink team. He now knows to never wipe off oil with a towel, walk around lemon trees at night, or get anywhere near a Robot Coupe. Follow him to safety first at @Dannosphere.