5@5 - Kitchen horror stories
October 25th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Kitchens are naturally scary places: there are open flames, an abundance of sharp knives and vats of boiling oil.

With Halloween lurking just around the corner, Jesse Mallgren of Madrona Manor in Healdsburg, California, gets in the spirit of things by sharing a few horrific tales from the culinary crypt.

Five of the Worst Things I've Seen in a Restaurant: Jesse Mallgren

Everyone has heard a horror story about dirty cooks and strange practices in the restaurant world. Most of the stories are exaggerated or isolated instances. I have a few of my own. I chalk these up to learning experience because you can learn as much from a bad experience as a good one.

1. "Kitchens are generally a testosterone driven affair. I once worked for a sous chef who would drop a towel on the floor and ask female staff to pick it up so he could look at them bending over."

2. "All meat served in a restaurant must be inspected by the USDA. My second week at a job, I came in and a skinned whole deer was hanging in the walk-in. The longtime maintenance man was an avid hunter and under the former chef he was allowed to age his kill. Within fifteen minutes of looking at the deer hanging in the walk-in, the health inspector walks in and says, “So you like to serve venison?” I answered “I love to buy whole animals” and somehow got away with it."

3. "I worked for a short time at a restaurant that was next to a large field. We would have the occasional field mouse in the dry storage looking for something to eat. The mice got into a sack of flour and the owner wanted us to sift out the mouse poop. That was my last day."

4. "Fish is an expensive perishable produce. I saw a chef freeze fish that was going bad and try to cook it frozen so he would not have to throw it out."

5. "Some chefs complain about vegetarians. I do not mind cooking for them in fact I find it an interesting challenge. I worked for a chef who put chicken stock in all vegetarian food. He said, 'They will think I cook the best vegetarian food they have ever had.'

I had a raw vegan guest recently. I ran up to the garden for a few tomatoes still warm from the sun, juiced the tomatoes, blended the tomato juice with raw cashews, lemon juice and a bit of garlic and made a raw vegan creamy tomato soup that was delicious."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Evil Grin

    I've never really cared about a restaurant using frozen foods. In fact, up until recently, I assumed most restaurant used some frozen foods. If it's not a place that I'm paying $50 a plate, I don't see it as a crime, as long as they are able to make it delicious.

    The mouse droppings and the chicken stock in vegetarian offerings are bad in my book, though. Anything having to do with blatant health violations, of course. I wish you'd call out this place by name so we can all avoid it.

    I may not be vegetarian or vegan or raw vegan, but I feel if their choices should be respected. If you say that you'll fix them a meal to fit their diet, then you should do just that. If you don't want to serve them, tell them up front. But don't hide meat in their meals just to spite them. I bet that's the same chef, who upon hearing a customer has a nut allergy, will deliberately grind up some nuts and slip them into the dish. It's just a bad practice.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  2. jillmarie

    The mouse one made me sick- I used to work in a building where they had mice- yuck! Also, I don't understand the one with the deer, either. Oh well.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  3. Warren Bobrow

    of course there is the three second rule.. Food hits the floor. You have three seconds to put it on the plate and serve it.
    This is true!

    October 25, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Reply
    • Your Third Grade Teacher

      No it is not.

      October 26, 2011 at 7:13 am | Reply
    • Sue

      Not sure what restaurant you were in, but NO, that's not true of all restaurants. Where I worked as a cook, if it hit the floor, it went in the trash – no exceptions.

      October 28, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Reply
    • Trac393

      It is true when it comes to anything out of the deep frier. Just throw it back into the 350 degree oil a few sec and serve. Happened all the time three places I worked.

      November 2, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  4. Bhavana

    The story of the cook who put chicken stock in the "vegetarian" dishes made me sick! I am a practising Hindu, and there are many people in my community who are not allowed, by the tenets of our religion, to consume meat and its by-products. That chef could have laid to waste a lifetime of devotion!! Isn't that awful?? Chefs who don't respect the people who eat their food shouldn't be cooking.

    October 25, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Reply
    • Jeff DeWitt

      I once worked in a family owned Italian restaurant that had several locations. They sent me to one of the other locations to learn some of the tricks their head cook used. One of the was to save the grease from cooking hamburger and use it to make the roux used to thicken the tomato sauce.

      That makes sense, except that same sauce would then be used to make spaghetti with tomato sauce often eaten by vegetarians. The meat sauce was the same sauce with cooked hamburger added.

      It WASN'T an idea I used!

      Then there was the time the sewer pipe under the kitchen collapsed. If we ran the dishwasher or (worse) someone flushed the toilet on that side of the restaurant it would back up through the floor drain in the kitchen. I figured out we could scoop out two tea pictures of water out of the dishwasher and run it for one cycle (we would dump the water in the can wash out back). Doing that and closing the rest rooms on that side of the restaurant got us through that Friday night.

      October 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  5. gremlin

    Please. These aren't horror stories. I could make people never eat at the Olive Garden again. One of the more tame stories is when we ran out of gloves in the entire place. For two weeks.

    October 25, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      Just the thought of eating at The Olive Garden is horrible enough,

      October 26, 2011 at 12:34 am | Reply
  6. JLBM

    I feel lucky that the restaurant I worked in had chef's who prided themselves in virtually perfect inspection scores and happy customers. But at other restaurants I was often surprised at some of the odd things that would come up. Like the restaurant I went to who said that there was no meat in the mushroom soup. When the customer called the waitress on the huge hunk of beef in the soup she said "Oh, well usually they only use beef broth." Yeah, because beef broth is vegan! Makes you wonder about the rest of the 'vegetarian' food.

    October 25, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  7. Andy

    This guy is an idiot.

    October 25, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Reply
    • Aletheya

      At least he's not a jerk.

      October 25, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  8. BadChef

    Once our dishwasher accidentally knocked two flats of mushrooms to the floor. I proceeded to sweep them up and throw them out. Chef came over furious and yelled "What are you doing! Just wash them off, they are grown in sh** anyway!" I left not too long after that...

    October 25, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  9. HooBoy

    Frozen fish! Heaven forbid! I can tell how old Jesse is if these are the worst things he has ever seen.

    October 25, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Reply
    • Your Third Grade Teacher

      Read that whole item again young man. You need to work on your reading comprehension skills.

      October 26, 2011 at 7:11 am | Reply
  10. gah

    the mouse one makes me nauseous

    October 25, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Reply
    • TexanGal

      Tell me about it! That makes me never want to eat out again! Ick! :(

      October 25, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Reply
  11. Skottikins

    O_o wow.

    October 25, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Reply

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