"I made bolognese sauce for pasta a long time ago.
Everything was just fine, the sauce was simmering, the pot was steaming, and I was busy cleaning some kitchen tools on the side.
Then I went to stir the sauce.
I have never burned my fingers so badly.
You see, somewhere between 'I should stir it quickly' and grabbing a wooden spoon, my brain went on a picnic. I reached into the pot with my bare hand and submerged it, happily stirring the bolognese for about half a second until my pain receptors started screaming bloody murder at me.
Up to today, I have no effing idea why my brain decided to take a hike on that one. At that split second, it made perfect sense to me: stir the sauce by any means necessary.
I couldn't even."
"In one of my earliest jobs, I had to close up the kitchen, which included cleaning the deep fryer. One day, after straining the grease from the deep fryer, I cleaned it out and then dumped the oil back in. Unfortunately, I forgot to turn off the valve, so the hot grease came right back out of the machine and soaked my right leg.
I reacted amazingly fast and jumped feet first into a large sink full of dirty water. That saved me from any severe damage. I still wound up with a huge first-degree burn and some blistering in spots. I got lucky. What really sucked, though, was the clean up afterward; there were five gallons of grease covering the floor, it took forever to clean that up."
"In culinary school, we had to make big pots of clarified butter for egg day. Two and a half pounds of butter per station. Chef told us we'd have a lecture about halfway through class, so we had to be sure to take anything off the stove before this happened. Surprise surprise, just as I got my butter on, chef called for lecture. I thought, 'Well, shucks' and took my pot of butter off the stove. My roommate, who was on a different station, did not.
About fifteen minutes into lecture, our somewhat dainty German chef lifted his nose up and said, 'Yes, I zink somezing iz buhning?' My roommate ran over to his station where a solid column of black smoke was forming over his stove. The chef was yelling at him, he was apologizing profusely, it got a little chaotic. And in that chaos, my roommate thought that the best course of action was to take this bubbling pot of burning, hot, fat over to the sink and turn the cold water on full blast. No one was injured, but it made a pretty loud bang and threw blackened butter all over the place. Up until that point, I didn't know butter could be used as an explosive. How that guy made it out without burning his face off, I'll never know."
"I ran a private house call service comprised of James Beard/Michelin grade chefs who were in between restaurants, taking time off to write or do television or simply enjoyed extra money and high profile networking for a few hours of work.
My chefs would be 'rented' for an evening at a venue or home, with the product already provided and typically with access to very high-end kitchens. You just kind of show up, ask what they want to eat or what style and get to work.
Many of these clients would be people who made last minute plans to entertain or just had the high net-worth to do this sort of thing on the fly.
One early evening a pretty well-known celebrity chef with a high price tag was chosen by a first time client. It was odd because they gave three hours notice and didn't chalk in a sous or any additional staffers. They also gave no details on what the cuisine was to be, but that's fairly typical on this end of home staffing (some of these clients have whole meat lockers in their basements and caves to age cheese in on the property, and don't get me started on wine cellars).
The client was serving a group of 20 and would be returning with guests in tote from a screening at another house. He wanted everything to be plated when they arrived. Yes plated, one chef, no staff, with 3 hours notice. It takes an hour to get anywhere in this city to begin with.
Anyway, the price was well worth it, so with a bit over an hour and a half to prepare and plate, our guy gets to the gatehouse of the street and is given a key and a note with an alarm code, the time to have everything plated and something about where staff bathrooms are, staff kitchen etc, but there's also a caveat. If dinner isn't ready when they return, they won't use us again. I had already told the chef that this was reinforced on the phone but the fact that they wrote it in a personal note would make anyone nervous. But at least he could use house staff to help right? Nope.
Chef walks into the house with less than 90 minutes til chow-down and there is literally no one there. No maid, no cooks, no bratty kids, no nada. Seems like something out of a creepy movie scene, which, given the client, wouldn't be surprising.
Upon entering this massive kitchen this dude sees four giant igloo ice chests on one of the islands. He opens each one up and it's the same vacuum sealed bags filled with what looked like super-bloody and strangely fatty tuna. Cutting them open makes the whole place smell like the ocean and lime, it had a marinade apparently.
The fridge is full of dated and labeled produce, all said the current date. Avocados cut and in lemon juice, four giant bags of chopped onions and shallots, a varietal of sliced peppers, literally pounds upon pounds of different kinds of chopped tomatoes, cilantro and chive and liters of some citrus smelling fish stock. Cool, so prep has been taken care of, now what in the world to make?
No instructions, 80 minutes to go. He called me, I called the client, client doesn't pick up. This was not looking good. Chef tells me there are glass bowls on the table and spoons and margarita glasses. I'm thinking soup, he's thinking soup, can it be done in an hour? Yes, they have a ton of viking stoves and giant pots, so load em up and work your magic with the spice closet.
An hour later he is just about to finish plating this seafood stew of sorts, the client gets home, flips out at chef in front of 20 people, kicks him out and calls me, incensed.
Not only does he not want to ever use us again, but he screamed at me saying my chef ruined around 8 grand worth of Orca meat they had flown in from Osaka. Is this even legal?
Apparently, the note the chef read had the word Ceviche written on it and he missed it in his frantic scramble to put food out in time. I would assume they wanted to pass it off as fish to us, as it might be considered taboo, although you better believe they sent us a bill with the Japanese receipt stapled to it. To this day I have no idea if they ate the stew or not."
"I mostly blame the alcohol involved, but it is by far my biggest screw-up:
I was drinking with my roommate. He said, 'Hey, you can cook, right?'
I said, 'Sure, what do you want?'
He said, 'Popcorn shrimp!'
I said, 'Sure thing, buddy!'
I set myself up with a big pot of boiling oil, cranked the heat on that pot to high, and set up a few bowls for breading the shrimp. What I didn't notice, however, was how long my setup took.
So I plop in the first couple of shrimp and the oil begins to churn violently.
That's when my roommate's girlfriend came home.
During the time it took for us to say, 'Hello,' the oil caught fire.
'Aaaaagh,' said my roommate.
'Aaaaagh,' said his girlfriend.
'Aaaaagh,' said I.
So I was drunk and had a giant flaming pot of oil in my little apartment. Instinct told me: get this thing outside, NOW. So I picked up the pot, enduring the searing pain because I know if I sloshed burning oil onto the floor, this apartment complex was going DOWN. My roommate flung open the back door, I went running out and set the pot down in the back yard. My various neighbors, who heard the screaming, were now treated to this interesting show.
So now my instinct told me: put the fire out with the fire extinguisher! So I grabbed the fire extinguisher, and let loose, maybe only twelve inches away from the pot (sober people know to stand a good five or 6 feet back from the fire when using extinguishers). This caused the fire to go 'FWOOOSH' and intensify for a minute, and now there's a nice covering of white fluff all over the back yard. I swear to God, my neighbors at this point are just sitting on their balconies, drinking and giggling.
Then my roommate's girlfriend came to save the day. She walked up, plopped the lid on the pot, and within seconds the fire was out. She glared at us, called us idiots, and literally told us to go wait in our rooms while she ordered pizza."
"I'm just a home cook, but a pretty accomplished one. I love cooking and having people over, trying new dishes, yada yada, but nothing will ever rival the fart stew I made.
I decided to make a cassoulet, albeit one that strayed from tradition. I decided on using chicken instead of duck (I'm a grad student = poor ) and used a really nice sausage and some pork belly. So I went to the butcher, got my meats, chatted with cute counter butcher and then left. When I got home, I began to soak my white beans and left them to sit overnight.
The next morning I went to the kitchen to start what would be an eight-hour affair, heady with delight thinking about the evening's supper. I went to look at my beans, give them rinse and was taken aback. They reeked - like my brother's farts after protein shakes. I was a little scared. I went to the cupboard and frantically my eyes scanned the shelves. Not a single bean dried or canned to be found. Now at this point, I'm sure you're wondering why I didn't just run to the store and buy new beans. Well, my darling boyfriend was out for the day and with him, the car, and we had two guests that would be arriving in the evening, so I had to have something made. So here I was with a decision to make, one that would change the course of history. I could use my fart beans or just scrap tonight's dinner plans. I reasoned and thought well, I'll just rinse them a lot and an eight hour cook time should render out whatever foulness had gone there.
So I rinsed and I tasted. Slightly farty, but I figured it will mellow out. Oh, if only I knew then what I know now. I set to work, going through all the steps to make this delicious bad boy. Several hours later, when my boyfriend got home, I ran to the door and began confessing my crimes. I dragged him to the kitchen and the look on his face said it all. The roasted anus of Satan had begun assaulting his nostrils. Mellow was not a word that these beans knew. Over the course of six hours, they ripened and intensified to the worst kinds of farts.
I was disheartened. Soon, the doorbell was ringing. 'C' and 'V' arrived and before I could begin apologizing for the smell and explaining that we would have to order pizza, V said, I kid you not, 'Wow, something smells delicious!' I almost started crying.
'Come to the kitchen,' I said, 'you'll change your tune.' Back in the kitchen, I opened the oven door and the fart infused fires of Hell belched out their smoky greasy odor. 'I'll order a pizza,' I said. But C and V insisted they would try it. I ladled out steaming portions, tasted it and trashed it in one fell swoop. Farts! Farts and the worst sort of garlicky methane-laden nastiness.
We had pizza. Fart stew was thrown away and I lamented the fact that what was supposed to be a beautiful, rich, hearty meal was inedible farts."
"Today I made this big 4-5 serving pot of broccoli and grilled chicken fettuccine alfredo. However, like an idiot, I used a can of sweet condensed milk, and it totally and completely ruined the dish, rendering it unsalvageable. On one hand, I want to go, 'Eh, crap happens', but on the other, it was a giant dish of food that I spent time (and chicken) to make. It's a bit disheartening to see food go to waste, but what can you do?"
"I often have little screw ups (add too much of this, slightly overcook that, add this to that before it's ready, etc), but I'm a master when it comes to fixing those sort of mistakes so it's never really been a big problem.
The only time I've ever seriously ruined something beyond the point of being able to fix it was not really my fault, but it was fairly gruesome. It was my grandma's birthday, and per her request, I'd fixed an incredible looking four layer pavlova. It was perfect, beautifully decorated, and I was just putting the final touches to it when my aunt beckoned me over to taste a dish she's made (big extended family, we were all contributing a dish or two and serving buffet-style, so lots of people buzzing around the kitchen, doing different things). I gave my approval and turn back to the pav when I felt my stomach start to flip, and before I could react, I vomited all over my masterpiece.
Turns out the dish that I'd tried was full of hidden shrimp paste and oyster sauce; I'm allergic to seafood. Like I said, it's a really big extended family, and a lot of us have different allergies, so my aunt must have forgotten, or gotten me confused with the niece who's allergic to peanuts or something.
It was just so upsetting knowing that I'd worked so hard, and produced something flawless, only to have it ruined. Luckily, I'd made some really nice lemon curd the day before, so I whipped up a quick pastry shell and we had lemon meringue tart for dessert instead."
Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock
"I was making a ton of mushroom and beef lasagne and I asked my brother to bring us our grandfather's special tomato puree. So he brought it over and I opened the bottle and start pouring it out around the lasagna only to realize the stuff I poured out was dark purple. What happened? Well, my grandfather makes grape jelly and tomato puree, and he keeps them in the same dark green bottles. There is very little difference to the two when they are on the shelf.
On the other hand, the grape jelly lasagna turned out half decent and everyone who tried them was pleasantly surprised with how it ended up. I was still mortified and couldn't make myself try, though."
"I found a recipe that was for a stew that had bacon in it as the meat. I was so excited. I mean bacon stew! I decided to make it for my wife, daughter, brother-in-law, and his girlfriend. Well, I had everything prepped and ready to go. I went to grab the beef stock I had and - oh crap, wait I used that the other day. So I had no beef stock at all. The closest store that would have something I can quickly pick up is over 20 minutes away (we live in the country). My wife happened to find some beef bouillon cubes in the cabinet. Awesome! I'll just use that. It should be ok, right? No. I didn't realize how salty bouillon cubes are because I hardly ever use them. The bouillon cubes saltiness mixed with the saltiness of the bacon was so horrible, I couldn't choke it down. My brother-in-law suggested adding some potatoes to soak up the salt. Great idea! Nope, after I let it simmer for a while, I gave up. We ordered a pizza, which I had to pick up (nobody delivers when you live in the country) and I had to pass the store I was too lazy to go to in the first place."
"I started boiling about 6-10 eggs, fell asleep, woke up to my apartment filled with smoke and the most horrible egg smell. I went into the kitchen and all the water had evaporated and there were no eggs left inside the pot. They had all exploded, covering my entire kitchen (fridge, cabinets, counters, everything) in exploded eggs and shells.
I had to sit on my balcony for a half hour while the smoke cleared out because there was so much smoke I literally couldn't breathe inside. The smell was the worst part though, took a couple days to get rid of."
"My worst cooking screw up was the week after I started a new job, and no one told me the microwave zero button was bad and could possibly double up. I stuck a Hot Pocket in the nuker and went back to work and waited for the beep. 20 minutes later, I noticed a smokey smell in the office and went to where the microwave was, and saw fire inside the microwave and smoke billowing out of it. With a deft and stupid touch, I grabbed the microwave and ran for the door, not quite thinking that an on fire microwave is going to be hot. I managed to get the back door open and lobbed it out the back door, narrowly missing a Fed-Ex driver's truck and let it crash into the parking lot, which cause it to open, and billowing some of the worst smell and smoke I'd ever seen. Needless to say, the fire department showed up to extinguish the fire, and I earned the nickname 'Hot Pocket' for the rest of the year."
"I had picked up a few bags of different types of rice from an international foods store (all labeled in Korean) and went to cook some months later. I opened the bag, threw two cups into the rice maker, washed it, and added water. About 20-30 minutes later, I figured it was taking a little while longer than expected, so I checked on the rice, it was still covered in water, but steaming away. I gave it another five minutes, but the water still hadn't evaporated much. I pulled some out to check it, and after grabbing some, I realized my problem.
I had cooked two large cups, probably a half kilogram, of very coarse salt. It was in the same style bag as short-grain rice, and only some very small text near the nutritional info was in English. 'Ingredients: Salt.' I still have most of the bag in my pantry; it's pretty good salt, however, I did not end up getting any rice that day."
"I was making shepherd's pie. Potatoes were getting close to ready, veggies were set, the cheeses were grated, and then I realized I forgot to buy the lamb. I wound up with six pounds of mashed potatoes with carrots and peas, it was pretty sad.
Another time I decided to make some pasta. Put some water on to boil, made some coffee, and -- went to meet a friend. I sprinted straight home after I realized. I'm so glad it was a crap pot that my parents gave me when I moved. And hey, at least I didn't burn the house down."
"I was making one of my signature dishes: bacon wrapped trout with herb butter and rosemary. The recipe calls for it to be broiled for five minutes, then each fillet flipped over, and broiled another 3 minutes. When the timer dinged, I took it out of the oven and flipped the fillets. My screw up came when I put it back in the oven. I'm so used to putting cool pans into the oven and pulling hot pans out of the oven, so my genius brain betrayed me and told me the pan was cool (even though I just pulled it out with oven mitts). I grabbed the 500-degree stoneware pan with my bare hands. I heard the sizzle of flesh before I felt the pain. I knew if I dropped the pan, I risked breaking it and ruining my mother's floors. So as the pan continued to sear my hands, I gently placed it on the counter before I unleashed an unbridled torrent of expletives. At least the fish turned out well."
"I was making Beef Wellington and realized that I could not find the proper puff pastry to wrap the meat in. I went to two different grocery stores but didn't get what I needed. So I decided to try to wrap the meat with thinly pounded crescent roll dough. I figured it'd be fluffier than normal, but work out okay.
When it came out, it had puffed up greatly and there was barely cooked dough on the inside but the meat was running the risk of being overdone and it was a mess. I scraped off the biscuit dough as best as I could and my girlfriend and I ate it. Her's was okay, but mine still had enough of the dough on it and I ended up with food poisoning.
I haven't made Beef Wellington since, which is too bad because I love it."
"I was once making filling for a peach pie at a restaurant. I somehow added three pounds of salt instead of sugar to the mix. Peaches were about 10 minutes into cooking on the stove and I tasted them to make sure they were ok. Had an internal freak out, but kept calm on the outside. I knew if my sous chef or anyone else in the kitchen found out, I was going to be publicly dressed down and humiliated. I also didn't want to waste time and I wanted to make the dish the right way. I pulled the peaches out and rinsed as much salt as possible off in a big colander over the sink. After the rinse, they tasted fine so I added the right amount of sugar and the filling came out fine.
Another time, I was making potato salad. I misjudged the done-ness of 50 pounds of potatoes. They were undercooked and had to be thrown out because I had already mixed them in with the potato salad dressing.
One time, I watched two cooks pouring a cheese roux sauce out of a huge pot onto about 50 pounds of macaroni. The cook holding the pot slipped on the wet floor (screw you, dishwasher) and about 8 gallons of hot cheese went all over the kitchen and the cook.
I and others in that kitchen burned countless things by forgetting to set timers on them, those always suck.
We all screw up. You have to take the hit and keep your cool. If you freak out, you'll just make more mistakes. Prior proper planning will help you not screw up."
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