Having already brought you horrifying true stories of fried rats and poop and murder, we return today with our third and final installment of Kitchen Nightmares: Do not read while eating! Really, don't. Seriously.
1. The Pretty Pig
I used to be a foodrunner at a country club in a suburb of Philadelphia. One of the club's prized possessions was a dead pig they used-and reused-as a prop for special dinner parties. They would stuff an apple in its mouth, and decorate it with all kinds of fruit, vegetables and hors-d'eovres. When the party was over, the cooks would clean it up and put it back in the walk-in freezer for the next stuffy business meeting or whatever. It was a big hit among members.
The swine was more than just a fancy centerpiece, however. Whenever I had to fetch something from the walk-in, the leathery pig was there covered in frost with a permanent look of horror on its face. One day, I noticed the pig hadn't been in its usual place for a long time. I was talking to a member of the grounds crew one day, who told me what happened to it. He said another grounds guy had a special relationship with the pig-he assaulted it. Sexually. The story goes, the lonely man molested the pig once and was caught in the act by another custodian. He was given a second chance-to save the guy some embarrassment more than protecting him from being fired-but he couldn't help himself and followed his demons back to the unfortunate beast. It's uncertain how many times it happened, but the guy was caught again and subsequently fired. The legend goes, however, that the pig continued to be implemented at private parties after the guy had violated it god knows in which orifice until word of what was going on made its way to the head chef, who finally threw the thing out.
2. The Meat Wreck
It was a beastly hot Friday afternoon in mid-July in a wealthy enclave on the Jersey shore. On summer break from college, I was managing a WASPy waterfront restaurant while the regular boss was away, as was the mobbed-up owner. The butcher had called to say he couldn't deliver so I asked the young dishwasher to come along and we'd pick up the meat order. No problem. It was a couple hours before the rush would begin and it would be good to get out. It would be even better to get out in the absent owner's prized MG Midget convertible rather than the restaurant's sensible minivan.
Now. Imagine if you will the massive amount of chopped beef it takes to make a high-season weekend's worth of burgers at the most popular place in town. Hundreds of pounds, divvied up into child-sized portions (and by that I mean each was the size of a robust child) and placed in heavy plastic bags. We'd picked it up, piled it into the car, and headed back along the busy central road lined with twee little shops run by abandoned Wall Street Wives and patronized by others of their ilk. Dishwasher was driving—he had the keys because he was supposed to be doing minor repairs on the condition he never take it out of the parking lot (I found out later); I was perched precariously on top of the mountain of meat; both of us were giddy in the way one is when you know you're doing something benignly ridiculous in public.
A friend of Dishwasher's pulled out in front of us in whatever sturdy rich-kid car he was driving and gestured a challenge dishwasher could not resist. Friend started hot-rodding up the road, dishwasher followed suit, friend hit his brakes, MG pancaked into the other car. I went flying and landed, miraculously, in a soft municipal flower bed. Dishwasher also escaped serious injury—at least until the owner returned. But to those passing by on foot or in their cars for the next hour as we waited for the cops and the tow truck it looked like the worst accident in the fair town's history. Bloody meat was strewn hither and yon in and around our cars under the hot summer sun. This was pre-Botox days, too, so the pleasure of seeing the sheer horror on the faces of all those ladies of leisure—most of them cheap, mean-spirited customers—is something I'll never forget, and never see again.
3. How to Wash a Fork
I was having a rough year in NYC, so I decided to start temping for a catering company. I got a call to work a dinner party honoring William Defoe for something business(not film) related. Although the pay was shit, I jumped on it because I figured at the very least I could swipe some choice bottles of booze.
I got to the location which was in a photography studio in Chelsea, real bare bones - no kitchen to speak of. Us waitstaff just hung around for an hour, not a soul in sight. When our boss with his kitchen staff finally arrived they were visibly drunk and hours behind schedule. Instead of scrambling to set the tables or inventory the supplies, we were all personally dressed by a fashion expert. $400 shirts, long black ties(past your groin which I never quite understood), and aprons which went past your ankles(so you couldn't run away). Anyway, the guests were soon to arrive and there was no food ready - and the head guy soon discovers he doesn't have enough forks. He starts to freak, but guests are starting to arrive - so he starts yelling at his kitchen staff to get the food ready(brought in hot - set up sterno style).
When the guests are finally seated for the first course its already been over two hours of booze and oysters, and there were at least eight courses not including dessert. Instead of taking orders from patrons or setting something up buffet style, we were required to walk up to each table with a tray of food and plate it in front of them. Because of those pesky aprons which restricted movement, a lot of my fellow waiters were dishing food on people - I saw a dude dump some asparagus all over William Defoe(who actually was really nice). It was midnight and the main course still wasn't ready - half the guests have already left in disgust, and the other half were wasted models and assistant directors demanding french fries. Of course they loved to take it out on waitstaff, but the beautiful thing about temping is that there is very little incentive to care about your job.
I went in the back to try to help speed things up when the boss grabbed me and told me to wash a bunch of forks in the bathroom(the only sink on premises), I grabbed my pal and told him to help. I want to say that, although I don't regret doing this, I still feel kind of bad about it. As we're washing the forks in the sink, there is a long line of people lining up to use the bathroom and they are banging on the door. So I tell my friend(as a joke), "throw the rest of those forks in the toilet and were done!", well... he did. I kept the two sets of silverware separate and insisted on setting the table myself - William Defoe didn't get a tainted fork, but I made sure those who deserved it did.
I then told the boss that I had to leave on time(we were hours behind) because I had another gig(lying). When I got home my roomie had brought home all the hors d'œuvres from the before party for the same dinner. Having not eaten, I pigged out(they were actually not very good), and woke up in the morning with severe food poisoning. Karma's a bitch.
I used to manage a fine dining restaurant and lounge on the town square of a very small (but very wealthy) Southern college town. Our restaurant was known for its steaks and seafood, so regular meal prices were easily $50-$100 per head - we're talking classy shit here Anyways, in a back hallway of the restaurant there's a "trap door" that gives employees access to the basement/dirt-floored spider dungeon (the buIlding was close to 100 years old). This is where we stored things like empty kegs, extra tables and our most expensive wines and liquids.
The trap door also happened to be located in the same hallway the staff used to access the dish window. This is where every dirty dish, glass and utensil is sent to be washed. In other words, this hallway is used constantly.
One particularly busy night, I entered the basement to retrieve a limited edition bottle of Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac in a crystal and gold decanter (retail ~$3,000). As I'm turning to ascend from the basement, bottle in hand, I see at the top of the stairs our most portly Waitress walking towards the opening in the floor, completely unaware that the trap door was open. Waitress also had her hands full, carrying a stack of plates topped with freshly used utensils - including steak knives.
As you can probably imagine, the subsequent events were not pleasant. Waitress walks directly into the opening, plummeting down the stairs, preceded only by the stack of plates and silverware she flung before her. Plates, knives and waitress all come hurdling towards me with blinding speed. Before I can react, I am being knocked back down the stairs by the stack of flying knives and porcelain, followed by Waitress's ample body. I end up breaking my coccyx, shattering the bottle of Remy, and landing on a knife which stabbed me in the kidney. All while Waitress is splayed out on top of me - completely unconscious.
Needless to say, service was interrupted and an ambulance was called.
Oh yeah, and the bottle of cognac got taken out of my check.
5. The Secret Ingredient
So in high school I got a job working at a place as a short order cook was pretty easy work I worked after school till close with one other guy. For the first week the guy is teaching me how to cook and stuff and showing me the different things that have to be done every night. So every night we would each take a break to eat and have a smoke so the first night I am watching him make chicken cordon blue. So right next to the grill there is honey mustard for that dish in a bottle. He walks back to the walk in fridge and grabs the gallon bottle of the stuff. I assume that the squirt bottle was out and think nothing of this. Over the next few days I see him do this two more times. Finally I ask him why he is doing this and he tells me why. A few weeks earlier during a really busy lunch time a customer pissed off one of the guys that worked there so bad that he took the bottle of honey mustard to the bathroom and peed in it. He then proceeded to make the customer a Chicken cordon blue. I never made myself a chicken cordon blue.
6. How to Impress Chicks
During my last two years of college in Madison, WI I worked part-time at an Italian deli located in a small strip-mall. For the most part it was a pretty good job since I rarely had to interact with the owner, an inept 45 year old new-money Republican with a barely disguised racist streak. I worked closing shifts during the week and day shifts on the weekends with three other guys and we were all fairly close friends. One Sunday the owner dropped in on us unexpectedly and announced that he'd just purchased a power washer from Home Depot. He decided that the racks in the walk-in refrigerator should be cleaned and asked if any of us knew how to run a power washer. Oblivious to what was about to transpire I mentioned that I'd routinely used the washer at my father's machine shop over the years. This was a mistake I quickly came to regret as I was tasked with taking the racks out the back of the deli to the asphalt loading area and giving them a thorough cleaning. The problem with this chore was that it was late February, not exactly the warmest time in Wisconsin. Compounding matters even further I hadn't worn a proper jacket to work that morning as I lived two blocks away and it was a sunny day with temperatures hovering around freezing, leading me to just throw on a light windbreaker over my polo shirt uniform. I soon found myself out back hosing down steel racks, wet and shivering uncontrollably. After 30 minutes or so a rime of ice began to coat the loading area and it became exceedingly slippery. Despite this I soldiered on and successfully cleaned all but one of the racks without slipping and it looked as if I would survive unscathed. However as I started on the last rack the door to the flower shop next door opened and out stepped the stunningly beautiful weekend employee with whom I shared an Econ class the previous semester and had been flirting with for months. I looked up and started to give her a quick wave and in doing so set off a Three Stooges-esque chain of events where I lost control of the sprayer and had both feet go flying out from under me. I landed hard on my back and cracked my head against the asphalt pretty hard, never letting go of the sprayer and shooting a jet of water into the air. The flower girl stifled a laugh and asked if I was OK and in my haste to pop back up off the ground I slipped on the ice again and went down hard to my knees, for some reason still spraying water all over. I finally let go of the sprayer handle and gingerly got back on my feet in a crouch but when I straightened up I lost it yet again. This time I'd grabbed the rack for support as I fell and I ended up bringing the whole thing down on top of me. Since it was so icy I couldn't get out from under it so I had to ask her to go inside the deli and get my coworkers to come help me out. I ended up with a lump on the head, bruised knees and arms, a nasty cold and an irreparably damaged ego. I never did screw up the courage to ask out the flower girl after that.
It feels good to get that out in the open.
7. It is Fun to Go to the Mall
After graduating from an Ivy League college, I briefly worked as a waitress in a chain restaurant in a mall that specialized in ice cream. During training, we actually watched a video on how to scoop ice cream so that there would be a pocket of air inside, and it would look like a perfectly round scoop, but use less ice cream and thus save money. Our "break room" was a small corridor next to the walk in fridge, where, for some reason, we were allowed to smoke. The cook would frequently thaw burgers by placing them next to a hot air vent near the floor, and then smoke over them, casually dropping cigarette ash on the frozen meat. There was usually at least an inch or two of water on the floor at any given time throughout the kitchen area and "break room". We were required to wear ties at all times (male or female) and to scoop our own ice cream, so at any given time your tie would be covered in a thin film of ice cream and toppings, as it is largely impossible to lean over into a below-counter freezer, scoop ice cream, hold the lid open and hold your tie all at the same time. I wore the same tie for the enitre 4 months I worked there and never washed it, as no one ever asked me to.
As it was located in a mall, we happened to be right across from Eddie Bauer. The cook had an open view from his grill station to the front of the store. He was apparently so fond of one their salesgirls that he would openly talk a stream of profanity about her while rubbing his crotch with the handles of his grill utensils. Unfortunately one of the young ladies who worked there came to eat with us one day, and it was extremely difficult to look her in the eye. Oh, and the kitchen was largely open to the seating area. So he was most of the time, entirely visible doing this. No one seemed to notice.
One day a rather rude couple came to eat. Apparently this was their big day out. They spent a lot of time giving me specific instructions, including that the husband's bread should not be toasted "because he ain't got no teeth and needs it nice and soft" and that they needed soup spoons to eat their ice cream. After running around for them they made a huge point of throwing 2 pennies at me "this is your tip for being rude to my husband, ain't his fault he aint got no teeth!" I cowered, left, told my shift supervisor, expecting her to reprimand me. She walked out to the dining room, put the pennies back on their table and calmly instructed them to keep the change and put it towards dental care.
8. A Funny Joke Among Friends
Back in my late 90s college days, I worked in the worst place imaginable: a popular "Italian" buffet restaurant in Lincoln, Nebraska. In addition to the hellish "Kids Eat Free" Tuesdays, where tables of 12 (1 adult and 11 kids) would stuff their fat faces, knocking over drinks and essentially dumping the entire contents of their meals onto the floor for a whopping $6.99, we had a very upscale sounding "Sunday Brunch."
The manager who hired me was a good friend of my then boyfriend, was a very funny, chummy kind of guy (I'll call him Butch) whom the entire staff (including me) liked. He made our crappy job a little more enjoyable. That is, until he almost snuffed me.
A handful of us were hanging around in the kitchen before the big mid-morning brunch rush hit. A batch of freshly baked mini muffins had just been removed from the oven when out of nowhere, someone came up behind me and shoved one into my mouth and held their hand firmly over it to, I don't know, I guess REALLY MAKE SURE it's in there.
Of course, I struggle to talk a breath and the warm mini muffin melts over my windpipe. I'm clutching at my throat and whip around to see Butch laughing then, smile quickly fading to panicked alarm when he sees me choking. The other staff members are too stunned/stupid to know what to do and all I know is that my field of vision is getting dimmer and streaked with flashes of light. I'm thinking that I'm going to fucking die in the kitchen of this disgusting buffet restaurant wearing a fucking bow tie and polyester pants.
Last thing I remember is gaining conscieness on the employee bathroom floor with Butch next to me. He said he pounded me on the back enough and/or the mini muffin melted enough to where I had cleared it. He told me to gather myself and get back to work as soon as I was ready. That fucker at least could have given me the day off, considering he almost killed me.
9. It's Better Not to Be Curious About Your Food
I went in for a job interview at a local BBQ place here in Atlanta when I was in high school. They seemed to like my attitude and me being 15 I was just looking for anything but they still gave me the full tour after the initial job interview. The highlight and the thing I never forgot was the baked beans (which were fantastic) which got cooked in a giant pot. It was so large you needed a special tool to stir so they had a large paddle about a foot and a half long. During my tour the cook explained about how they prepped the food and what my responsibilities would be and what I would have to clean and have sanitary for the start of each day. That's when he started rolling up his sleeve and telling me about the paddle they use to stir the beans. They had lost it earlier in the day (how?) and he then proceeded to use his entire forearm to stir the giant vat of beans. I never ate the baked beans again and luckily never worked a day there cause I got a job interview the next day as a lifeguard. It paid a lot more ($1.50 over minimum wage) so I never actually worked at the BBQ joint and lifeguarding was so much better than anything else you could do for a summer job imho. Although I did find lots of dead things in the pool each morning It didn't compare to the image of that hairy arm stirring up the cauldron of baked beans.
One that didn't involve me was my best friend in high school. He worked for Papa Johns and after a patron was incredibly rude over the phone they prepped his crust extra special with a few pubes from each of the people working in the restaurant that night. I'm sure it fried out in the cooking but ugh. Never screw with the people who make your food especially if you can't see them.
10. Don't Even Read This One
When I was just out of high school I got a job working in a certain fast food mexican restaurant. I actually didn't mind it so much. Most everyone there was nice and most of us hung out together after work. One kid that worked there was albino, or so close to it that we were all sure that he was.
Anyways, during the summer that kid went on vacation somewhere sunny. When he returned to work, he was incredibly sunburned and peeling bad, really bad. That day, I was working on the food line with him, and he was working the burrito/taco stuffing position. For some reason he had decided to add a bit of "special" stuffing of his own. When I looked over he was peeling off a huge sheet of skin, which he then put into some pour customers burrito. It was so disgusting. I guess the lesson here is that you dont even need to be nasty to a server to have your food messed with. Sometimes it just happens.