Kitchen Nightmares: Fried Rats and 'Beef Stroking Off'

Yesterday, we asked you, the ketchup-stained Gawker readership, for your horror stories of working in restaurants. My, did you fail to disappoint! Below, ten tales of glory.

1. The Perv Cook

I was working at a big, tourist-trap restaurant on Pensacola beach. It was the kind of place that overflows with Southern families and people wearing Hawaiian shirts who want to order crab claws and frozen Bushwhackers. Most of the kitchen staff were locals from the panhandle: a few rednecks, a few Hispanic guys, and a couple transient guys who would work for 5 days and disappear. In the middle of the summer management hired a new prep cook, I'll refer to him as Beetle, who loved to talk about butt rock metal bands like the Bullet Boyz. I'll cut to the chase - about 3 weeks after he started I was opening the outside up when I noticed a few cops talking to one of the managers. I made my way to the kitchen and the cops had pulled Beetle aside and were asking him, "We've had several complaints that someone has been driving through the toll booths and exposing themselves to the operators. We have photos that suggest its someone driving your vehicle." Beetle denied it across the board and seemed outraged to be accused of the perverted driving. I showed Herculean gossip restraint and didn't mention it the other waiters because it seemed pretty screwed up and, to be honest, I had the feeling Beetle had enough to deal with in life. 2 or 3 weeks after the cops had paid a visit I showed up for work at 10am to open. The cops were already there and management looked pissed/frantic. Here's what had happened:

A grandmother, mother, and granddaughter were walking on the boardwalk at 9am when they stopped to take a picture. After the picture was taken the mother noticed movement in the 2nd story window of the restaurant above them. The movement was Beetle, who had taken off all of his clothes in the upstairs dinning room, doing jumping jacks and leering at the 3 generations of women. The police were called and Beetle tried to deny it but, apparently, the toll booth wanking had continued and the cops were zeroing in on him regardless of his naked calisthenics. Beetle was arrested and replaced but he will always be a pervert to me.

2. A Ride in the Oven

When I was 15 (15 years ago) I worked at a bagel bakery attached to an upscale resturaunt and hotel. I did everything you could immagine while I worked there. Cleaning rooms, remodeling basements, baking bagels, prepping food for our "chef". One of the initaition rituals that chef Ricardo liked to impose was a ride in the oven. At the end of the day when the oven had cooled to below 200 degrees he would make me get inside. The oven was a huge six decked beast that would rotate the decks. I would have to take a ride all the way around. He would tell me that if I didn't do what he said he would suspend my paycheck, or tell my parents I was molesting the food. He also liked to make me mix bleach and windex in the little mop closet at the back of the shop. Those 2 chemicals react with a toxic cloud that can kill. Locking me in the walk-in for most of my shift was another favorite. The final straw was placed upon my stupid cammel back when Ricky told me to wash the dishes. He said "I ran a sink of suds. There's a stack of plates in there and I need them on the fly" When you pull a stack of plates out you plunge your hands to the bottom of the sink and make a big grabbing motion. I did that and found out the Ricardo had pranked me once again. Instead of a stack of plates, it was all the kitchen knives. I saw red. I tried to strangle him with my mangled hands and screamed "I GOT AIDS! I GOT AIDS!" Ricardo left that night and never worked in a kitchen again I'm pretty sure the owner, a nefarious gangster type guy put the boots to him. Eventually my hands healed up, and I found a kitchen where people don't try to kill each other, although I'm still pretty bitter about that sadist chef Ricardo.

3. Mushrooms of Perfection

I once worked as a graveyard line cook at one of the big 24 hour diner/breakfast chains. It was located right next to Greek Row and the bar/nightclub strip for University of Washington. In other words, we had a line out the door all night every Friday and Saturday night and after 2 A.M. that line was drunk.

One evening the night shift manager came strolling into the kitchen just as things were starting to get busy.

"Hey, I just bought an ounce of mushrooms from a hippy dude in the smoking section. You guys want some?"

The other cook and I didn't need to be asked twice. Nor did any of the waitstaff. In fact, the only employees that night that didn't partake were our two illegal immigrant dishwashers. They knew what was going on, however, and spent the rest of the night grinning at us.

We then proceeded to rock the house. You know those impossibly perfect food pictures on the menus? That was what the food coming out of the kitchen looked like. The waitstaff ran a 50% increase in tips over their usual Saturday night levels. Customers were actually sending tips to the kitchen after their meals and stopping by on the way out to marvel about the food.

One of our regulars commented to her waitress, "Wow, everyone is in such a good mood tonight! What's going on?"
"We're all on mushrooms."
"Ha ha, that would be funny."

4. Where the Dairy Queen Milk Comes From

The summer I was 15, I had a five-week stint working at my town's Dairy Queen in South Dakota. I wanted to work there because several of my other friends worked there, and I thought it would be cool and I'd get free ice cream. This was a terrible idea.

The main thing is that the owners of the place, who actually lived in a house attached to the Dairy Queen and were therefore constantly present, were sickeningly cheap. If you dropped a cup or a plastic spoon on the floor, you were not to throw it away- you were supposed to put it in back with the dishes so it could get washed and re-used. The absolute worst thing, though, was the "milk." This DQ kept a little plastic container under the soft serve spout to catch the drips of ice cream out of the spout. Then, if someone ordered a shake or a malt, before we went to the milk machine, we were first supposed to pour whatever soft serve drippings were in the container into the cup, so as to use less milk. This was of course out of sight of customers and was not done during a health inspection day... To this day I avoid Dairy Queens.

5. The Hand in the Peanut Butter Jar

I worked at a country club as a line cook and on the weekends I had to open up the restaurant.

A few weeks prior to the following incident, the restaurant had hired an older woman to help with clean-up around the club (so restaurant, kitchen, bathrooms, etc).

This woman had many problems, the most obvious of which was an extreme drinking problems. She often recounted stories about her multiple DUIs (a co-worker had to drive her to work everyday) and about once driving in the wrong lane on an interstate. She drank at work but we put up with because she spent most of her day cleaning up after asshole golfers, so who could blame her?

One morning when I was coming in around 7:30AM to open up the kitchen, I witnessed a terrifying act.

Like many restaurants, we got a lot of our food from a food service company. This means that normal items like ketchup, mayo, peanut butter, etc come in large two gallon containers rather than the small grocery-store sized jars. Upon walking into the kitchen, an associate and I saw the cleaning woman with her entire hand shoved into a container of peanut butter. We then witnessed her pull it out, lick the peanut butter off her hands and put in back into the jar for more. When we confronted her about what she was doing she responded in a confused voice "What? I do this all the time." After questioning her further, we discovered that she did in fact make a habbit out of this disgusting little act (including sneaking sips of clarified butter used for cooking). Needless to say, we ended up throwing out a lot of food products that day.

6. Shaving

A few years ago I waited tables/tended bar at a very popular Boston restaurant. Served food late (rare in Boston), inked up attractive staff, consistently considered the coolest joint in town and turned a great profit. Anyhoo- the owner was cheap and the menu mostly consisted of fried previously frozen items from a nearby Super 88, so we usually had some kind of interim "chef". One such installment was a fantastic drug addict.

I say fantastic because although this place was notorious for drug use, (hell, what restaurant isn't?) this guy took the cake. I don't know what particular cocktail he was on but I'd say, judging by availability from the staff, mostly synthetic opiates at first and then meth. His tweak, behind the line and directly over the food, was to shave his arms and chest with the kitchen knives. Every dish had a sprinkling of hair and who knows what else. I feel like barfing just thinking of it.

7. Rice Pudding Will Get You Everything

When I was 18 I worked as a waitress in a very old diner which shall remain nameless in New Jersey. It was kind of awesome because you could smoke in there at that time, even while working. My boss was a 60-something Greek man who was about a head shorter than me (I'm not tall) and always seemed like he was on speed. One afternoon as I was cutting lemons and preparing to close he sidled up to me and starting singing "Everybody screw somebody sometime." I ignored him.

Boss: [elbowing me]
Hey, it's a song.

Me: That's not how the song goes

Boss: So, how much you weigh? Some 80, 90 pounds? Perfect for lift up and have sex on kitchen counter.

Me: We are not having this conversation.

Boss: Hey, don't worry about it. You know, there was a girl, worked for me once, she called me up on the telephone and she said "[insert Greek name here] I want to fuck you on the kitchen counter." I never do, but, it's a good idea though.

Total perv, but he makes good rice pudding.

8. The Chicken Bowling League

When I was a kid, I used to work at franchised fried chicken joint. One time at that job, a new dishwasher working his first night wanted to go on break, but the boss wouldn't let him leave until the prep sink was totally empty. So he cleared the sink and went on his break. He was late coming back, and when we checked, we found out that he hadn't actually washed any of the pans or racks. He just hid them dirty in cabinets and trash cans and under bags of potatoes until the sink looked like it was empty, so that he could take his break. The guy never came back, either, so the assistant manager had to stay there until like four in the morning finding and washing all that crap and double- and triple-counting it to make sure nothing was missing.

Another time, the same assistant manager (who was big into meth, from what I heard) was working the drive-through window, and when a customer started giving him lip, he literally tried to climb through the window and attack the guy in his car. He made it most of the way out, but got his belt snagged on the frame, and ended up dangling out the window screaming and cursing, kicking his legs with his ass in the air while the guy drove away. Then his pants tore and he face-planted on the pavement.

I was also told that in the old days, back when the company shipped whole chickens rather than cut-up parts, the employees used to go bowling with them in the walk-in freezer. You just hold it by the drumsticks and let it fly, apparently. They had a whole league set up, with running score totals and everything.

9. Beef Stroganoff

It was a summer job for me. I was the drive-thru princess, working the window mostly because the cheap ass register they had would not tell you what change to give back and I could calculate pretty fast and mostly close to the correct amount. On this particular day the lunch rush was over, meaning there weren't 20 cars backed up in the drive-thru filled with friendlies demanding their 2 for $3 roast beef sammiches with extra horsey sauce. The beep went off and I intercommed my "welcome to blah blah" shtick only to hear some indecipherable mumbledypants reply. I asked a couple more times and finally made out that he was asking was "Beef Stroganoff." After letting him know that item was not on the menu, I waited for him to order something else. Silence. Just right then a car pulled up to the window and I glanced down though the glass. All I could see was hand moving rapidly over what I judged to be a man wiener (I was very sheltered at that point in my life, it was the first one I ever saw in person). He remained a few moments and then sped off. I do remember he never made eye contact.

His order was actually "beef stroking off." How do I know this? When I told my co-workers about the display they were like "oh yeah, that guy, he orders "beef stroking off" and then gives us a show." He came by one more time that summer. We never called the police. I'm not sure why, but it was the late 80's, a more innocent time I guess, before video surveillance and "To Catch a Predator."

10. To Trap a Rat

I was in high school at the time and this was my first job. I was a busboy at the country bumpkin' chain Po' Boys (I'm Po', But I'm Proud!) Mainly the job consisted of clearing plates of chicken fried steak and wiping the syrup off the checkered tablecloths. Not a lot of fun, but it paid for my car and my clothes. About 2 months into the job, I was bringing a bus tub full of dishes back to the dishwasher. I see a group of the line cooks gathered around the back wall hooting and yelling, so I go back to see what all the commotion is about. There is a giant fucking rat that made its was into the kitchen and they're trying to catch with pots and pans. Eventually one of the guys gets the basket from the deep fryer and manages to scoop it up without much fuss. I'm thinking he's going release the fucker out the back door and be done with it. Instead, the line cooks—with much amusement— take the rat and drop it into the deep fryer and cook it till it's crispy and golden brown. After they fish it out of the deep fryer and pass it around for all to see, they proceed to use the deep fryer for what it was actually intended: cooking french fries and chicken fried steaks.

Even though the meals were free for employees, I never ate there again.

So many of you restaurant employees are writers at heart! My sincere thanks to everyone who wrote in. We'll have another installment of Kitchen Nightmares later this week.

If you have stories you'd like to share, email me.