Choice Cuts & Battle Scars – Life as a Chef

Life as a cook is wrought with danger. Restaurant kitchens are hot and cramped spaces with hot oil, scorching heat and fire at every turn with sharp knives and whirring appliances threatening life and limb. It weeds out the weak and toughens those that are committed to the craft. Most, if not all, cooks and chefs that have called cooking their profession have a story about the culinary battle scars they’ve received in the line of duty. Here are a few.

 

Gilbert Noussitou, chef, chair of the culinary arts program, Camosun College, Victoria, BC

Battle Scar: Burn on the index finger of the left hand

I was 17 years old in 1972 and apprenticing at the Cafe de la Paix in Paris. I was working as a saucier commis and I burned my fingers while grabbing a hot pot. I was going to take a break and cool down a bit but the chef said, “Come here and I’ll fix you.” He grabbed my finger and turned around and put my finger flat on the stove to reburn it. The theory was, you take care of pain with pain. No doubt it hurt and I wasn’t allowed to leave but just kept working.

 

Stephen Drolet, chef/proprietor Camille’s at 45 Bastion Square, Victoria, BC

Battle Scar: burn on both arms

I had been cooking probably around a year in total, in the late 80s, and probably one four months into my job at an Italian restaurant, Macaroni Trattoria in the lower downtown area of Toronto. One of my weekly tasks was to make 30 litres of marinara sauce in a large pot on a massive stove top. The solids would collect to the bottom of the pot while the liquid simmered above. It required almost constant stirring to not scorch the bottom. I forgot for a bit and when I went to go stir it with the just-big-enough paddle, I moved the solids on the bottom of the pot. This released a ball of steam that effectively blew up and sent the equivalent of molten lava flying into the air. Most of it landed on my arms and hit me in other large areas of my body. I spent the rest of service submerging my arms in bus pans filled with ice water while cooking pasta dishes over open flames that only intensified the pain. The subsequent scars made me look like a heroin addict but have become brown splotchy areas over time. Anytime I now deal with thick, hot purees of sauces, I’m a lot more careful.

 

Ali Ryan, executive chef, Spinnakers, Victoria, BC

Battle Scar: left eye, 2005

It was my first year at Spinnakers, so I was still proving myself. In kitchen-speak, toughness is one of the most important traits to prove. Spinnakers has a brick oven to cook our pizzas in. At that time, the pizza shells were sprinkled with cornmeal to keep them separated. The oven would need to be swept out with a broom to clean it from time to time. I was doing that – vigorously – and somehow managed to sweep some of the burnt cornmeal into my face. It quickly became apparent that I got some into my eyes but thought nothing of it. As the hours passed my left eye became more and more uncomfortable and every time I blinked it felt like I had a razor blade slashing my inner eyelid. At home I tried to flush it out but failed, and spent the most agonizing night of my life trying not to blink or move my eye. I got up in the middle of the night to find I was bleeding tears from the effected eye – I was a kitchen Madonna shedding blood tears! I went to a walk-in clinic first thing in the morning and after an affectionate snort from the doctor who proclaimed that kitchen folk had the weirdest injuries, he removed the imbedded piece of cornmeal from my corneal, told me I had a hole in my eye and that my inner eyelid was ripped to shreds – hence the blood tears – and to be careful of infection. I mended almost instantaneously. Maybe it was a miracle!

 

Takashi Ito, executive chef, Inn at Laurel Point, Victoria BC

Battle Scar: burn, left arm

In 1985 I was working as a sous chef at a revolving restaurant in Ottawa overlooking the parliament buildings. I was in charge of a 60-person event and I was plating the first course, a simple green salad tossed with some dressing . Towards the end of plating I realized that I did not have enough salad greens, so I rushed to the walk-in to grab some more greens. When I went into the walk-in I slipped. Just outside of the fridge there was a pail of fresh onion soup. It had just come out of the stock pot – about 120 litres, and very hot, about 100 degrees. I fell right in front of it and I tried to stop my fall by putting my arms out and fell backwards with my arm landing into the onion soup. It burned. I put ice cream on it right away and then under cold running water and it blistered right away. I was out of service that night. I returned to work after a few days with a bandage from my hand to my armpit and was delegated to doing menus and schedules for about a month.

 

 

 



One Response to “Choice Cuts & Battle Scars – Life as a Chef”

  1. Haha! Too bad I don’t have a cooking scar. Does crying in the kitchen count when I’m cutting onions?

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