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Particularly Violent Kitchens

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Karri's post "Tales from the Crypt" about gross things witnessed in kitchens got me thinking back to a job I had 25 years ago. I worked in a Chinese restaurant that was particularly violent. The thing that sticks most in my brain was an evening service that was especially stressful because I was one of only two people in the kitchen who wasn't thrown in jail. Or in the hospital. Lots of slack to pick up.

It started when the dishwasher slapped a stack of washed saute pans up on the line. They weren't perfectly dry and a drop of water splashed a line cook in the face. He flashed back to Nam, went ballistic, ran out from behind the line, grabbed a cleaver off the prep table and started hacking on the dishwasher's arm. Seriously, I will never forget what I saw before I, um, ran. It looked like gills on a fish.

I've worked in other kitchens where the chef was borderline sadistic, but this kitchen was full on violent. Any of you have similar experiences you'd like to share?

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I did work with one chef who picked a fight with one of the waiters.

That chef was nuts, and didn't last long after that incedent.

He was also stupid as the waiter was from the hood in East St Louis and had done very well in the Golden Gloves there.

One time a lady sent back her sole saying it was undercooked. She added a comment something like, "tell that kid back there to put this back in the microwave." This was in the early 80's in KC and fish was usually served extra super well done. Today it would have been considered nicely cooked. Anyway, nutso chef gets offended and puts the plate under the broiler for a few minutes. He tells the waiter to use a towel to handle the plate but tells the waiter to "Hand her the plate or I'll fire you."

Dude was nuts.

But no one went after anyone with a cleaver. That's a whole 'nuther level.


That's the thing about opposum inerds, they's just as tasty the next day.

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My husband and I had the pleasure of developing and opening a restaurant with two Italian partners. Claudio turned out to be a lying, thieving crook-cook who thought it would be a good idea for me to sign my name to bad checks. The other, Martina, his partner/FOH/wife, in the space of 6 months, went from mildly psychotic to full-blown CRAZY.

Opening night, or maybe the second night, Claudio hucks a 25Kg bag of cinghiale sausage at his Martina, misses her, and it slams me in the legs. Just a few bruises, nothing terrible, but dodging bags of sausage is not my idea of a great work environment.

Other nights, note the use of plural, he would bodily pick her up and throw her out the back door, slam it shut...maybe reopen it and throw her handbag at her...then lock the door shut.

She was a chain smoker and she'd sit in the kitchen, chain smoking and literally stare a hole in my back. I caught her more than once throwing my knives in the garbage. Generally speaking, I didn't let her come near my knives. As she became more and more psychotic, I genuinely feared for my life.

And the parts where Claudio would threaten us with the Cosa Nostra and other assorted Roman thugs... we let that roll off our backs.

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I can't match these stories but one time when I was the Food and Beverage manager of a resort hotel I walked into the kitchen and saw two of the dishwashers running out with the executive chef chasing them and throwing pots and pans at them. Turns out he was not happy with the way they were cleaned.

Events like this convinced me to seek another line of work.

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Wow! the cleaver hacking is horror movie level!!! the worse thing I ever saw was a frozen 8 pound cod flying at a quickly retreating stuck up snooty French waiter that deserved to be fired but not bodily harmed.

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Working as a weekend dishwasher one summer I saw some amazing and violent fights between the husband/wife owners. He (chef) and she (ran the dining room) would have serious loud arguments during service with lots of door slamming etc almost every night. One very hot and busy evening, things were heating up again between them and the power went out. All hell broke loose with hot saute pans and flatware flying. She threw a pot of coffee at the hot line that broke when it flew into the deep fryer. The oil exploded at the sous chef (don't know how he missed getting seriously burned). I sneaked out and never even went back for my last check. They called several times really mad at me for walking out on them. Imagine that!

Worked with a line cook at another place who had a HUGE pot-belly. It was not a roomy line and there was lots of crossing behind and in front of other cooks during service so everybody had a hard time getting around this guy. Sometimes it was easier just to go all the way around, through the expediter's station. This guy's gut was so big he couldn't keep it in his chef coat so it was always just hanging out, above his pants. I remember one of his first nights at the saute station. He had about ten pans going on the big iron flat-top and I heard this yell - The broiler guy had tried to squeeze behind him and as he moved forward to make room, he had set his belly down onto the flat-top. He whipped around and cold-cocked the broiler guy, who went down in a heap, hitting his head on the steamtable en route. Both went to the hospital and we were two short on the line the rest of the night. Turned out to be a pretty nasty burn in a pretty sensitive place too.


The Big Cheese

BlackMesaRanch.com

My Blog: "The Kitchen Chronicles"

BMR on FaceBook

"The Flavor of the White Mountains"

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This is fascinating (and sort of hilarious), in a voyeur kind of way, and makes me glad I never did go into a kitchen after finishing cooking school. The Claudio/Martina story sounds like an Italian movie. I'm an academic, and there is lots of "violence" here, but of the psychological kind. I'm not sure which is worse. OK, being slashed by a cleaver, not so good.

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The mental pictures generated by xxchef will probably keep me awake tonight...I'm guessing there was a complimenting plumber's crack to that belly??

Oh yes indeed. Not a pretty sight.

I forgot to mention the time, at the same place, when the always-crazy head chef really went off the deep end. He lived on-property in a room over the maintenance building with his girlfriend (the bartender's sister). He was even more abusive of her than he was to the rest of us and one day she just left him (smart girl). He went on a drug-fueled bender that culminated in his emptying the magazine of a firearm he had into the wall of his apartment. Incredibly, nobody was hurt, and thankfully the restaurant was closed or I'm sure it would have been an early incident of a workplace rage shooting. They still carted him off to jail, never to return.


The Big Cheese

BlackMesaRanch.com

My Blog: "The Kitchen Chronicles"

BMR on FaceBook

"The Flavor of the White Mountains"

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So so glad I am out of that godforsaken industry. Love food but it is one of the most backwards industries I have ever come across, filled with a good number of animals who skipped evolution.

The worst incident I ever saw was during service one night. It wasn't particularly busy, but one section and one chef was getting nailed that night. As with anything, once you start getting too busy the mistakes start creeping in. A few little mistakes had being noticed - nothing major, and easily fixed. The head chef was getting antsy about it, and we could all see him ready to explode. This time something was different though. We could see it in his eyes and his body language. He wasn't going to shout.

So service continued for a while and we all tried to help our poor little friend who was doing his best, but probably wasn't capable enough to handle it on his own. I don't think any of us were actually. And there were some very capable chefs in that kitchen who had had success in some of the best restaurants in the world. The head chef was getting closer and closer to exploding. He yelled at us to stop helping him which we did, to try and calm him down. The maitre'd offered to help and tried to calm him. We all did. Finally it happened. That poor guy overcooked a scallop - not by much mind you - and the chef exploded. He ripped out the circle of the target top, grabbed the guys arm and branded him. Held him there and branded him. I've never seen anything so terrifying in my life. I still remember that stench of burnt flesh to this very day.

I think that was probably the beginning of the end for me. I walked out after that happened, and after the court proceedings and all that, I tried to get back in to a kitchen. The very next kitchen I worked in may not have been rough, but it sure felt rough. Maybe I was tainted from last time, but there certainly were some very rough characters in that place. The usual half drunk, half drug fucked losers, all full of testosterone trying to outdo each other in everything. There was at least one fight a week, and at least half a dozen people would quit by the end of a fortnight. I didn't last long there, only about 3 months. After that I just couldn't get motivated to get back into it. The kind of hours you work, for the kind of pay you get, with kind of people in that crowd makes it very difficult to justify, especially when you have a family you want to see and you are getting on a bit.

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Karri's post "Tales from the Crypt" about gross things witnessed in kitchens got me thinking back to a job I had 25 years ago. I worked in a Chinese restaurant that was particularly violent. The thing that sticks most in my brain was an evening service that was especially stressful because I was one of only two people in the kitchen who wasn't thrown in jail. Or in the hospital. Lots of slack to pick up.

It started when the dishwasher slapped a stack of washed saute pans up on the line. They weren't perfectly dry and a drop of water splashed a line cook in the face. He flashed back to Nam, went ballistic, ran out from behind the line, grabbed a cleaver off the prep table and started hacking on the dishwasher's arm. Seriously, I will never forget what I saw before I, um, ran. It looked like gills on a fish.

I've worked in other kitchens where the chef was borderline sadistic, but this kitchen was full on violent. Any of you have similar experiences you'd like to share?

Sounds like you worked with Mano, just a guess.


Reb

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I worked in a rather elegant Italian restaurant on the bay in San Diego many years ago. Our lunch service was always very very busy with various tourists, retiree regulars and our boss's private dining room for him and his gombas. For sume reason I seemed to have an affinity for working at mob related eating establishments at that time in my, thankfully, short career as a bartender.

The day chef was a young American guy with an awful, awful temper. He swore a blue streak, berated line cooks and sous, and threw cooking vessels. Anyway, I had walked back in the kitchen to check up on one of my customers lunch orders and heard him berating my cocktail waitress, as usual. What was not usual was his picking up a large chef knife and throwing it at her so hard that it stuck into the wall behind her. We screamed and ran out and back into the bar. From what I heard later the sous and the other cooks jumped on him and held him down while someone called the cops. My waitress ran out. I hid/waited behind the bar and next to the phone until the chef got carted away by the cops, was assured that he wasn't going to return and started looking for another job as soon as I clocked out.

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Most kitchen (including some starred kitchens) brigades that I've worked with operate under a controlled chaos. Teetering on the edge of explosion and just a crazed, but focused will to clear the board. While most people will agree, restaurant BOH "professionals" are viewed as violent, rude and short tempered assholes. But, when you are 45 covers deep into service at 7:00pm on a saturday night. There is no time to be nice.

From my experience, the only particular violent Chef I've worked for (who shall remain anonymous), had a particular pension for flipping out over lump crab meat being broken up a little too much while making crab cakes. He would walk up, look at you, touch it, and if it failed his inspection, he would knock the bowl off the table, tell you to clean it up and do it again.


A vision without action is a Daydream; Action without vision is a Nightmare.

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