Peril lurks behind every stove

By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

A restaurant kitchen can be responsible for some of the most pristine, sublime, delicious food you will ever eat. But it can also be responsible for some of the worst accidents and injuries you could ever imagine.

There are some extremely dangerous injuries to workers on an oil rig; steel workers toil under tremendous heat, not to mention handling dangerously hot liquids; cabinet makers and wood workers operate around sharp blades and saws. But a cook or a chef? We face each of those perils every day.

As a restaurant veteran of many years, I have both seen and experienced some remarkable and rather uncomfortable injuries.

I remember my third day in what became a fruitful, 11-year stint at Forepaugh’s Restaurant in St. Paul, Minn. A commercial box of aluminum foil can weigh 10 pounds, and as I pulled foil from the roll, the box slid off the counter.

Knowing that if the edge of the aluminum roll gets dented it will never again tear off quite right, I instinctively reached down to intercept it. Naturally the cutting edge lodged in my finger with the weight of the roll, and I instantly began bleeding heavily. In typical old French-chef fashion, and despite my serious cut, the chef simply looked at my finger, shook his head and walked away void of sympathy.

Common sense would dictate that a protective guard on any piece of equipment or tool is probably there for a reason. A coworker of mine many years ago (and not for very long for obvious reasons), decided it was a good idea to use his sharpening steel without the guard to sharpen his largest knife.

It didn’t take long to swipe the blade into his finger, causing a fairly serious laceration. The rest of us in the kitchen looked at each other without saying a word, yet held a conversation merely with our expressions of total shock that an individual could do something so, well, stupid. Imagine the visual exchange that took place between us when he did it again a few days later.

On the more obscure side of kitchen accidents, I once had an old whisk that had a small amount of moisture inside the handle. Unknowingly, I had placed the handle over a hot stove and when the water inside the handle got hot, it caused the end of the whisk to explode and shoot directly into my temple.

The kitchen was absolutely humming with service, yet we all stopped for what seemed like eternity and just looked at each other. No one knew what to say. But I was reminded of it the rest of the night every time I wiped from my temple a drop of blood mixed with sweat.

One time, I had a piping hot potato and dill gratin flip off my spatula, and just as my coworker Carl was rushing by me in the throes of a busy night, the potato landed in the back of his clog so as he stepped forward and down, he stepped right into it. He jumped in as much shock at the obscurity of such an occurrence as he did from the pain of having a hot potato stuck to the bottom of his sock.

Luckily he sustained no serious injury. The event lightened a tense mood the rest of the night and well into beers after work.

There are many more stories, some far too graphic to tell. But suffice it to say I have plenty, as does every seasoned cook or chef. Join me for a beer sometime and I may share some of them. It’s amazing any of us come out of a lifetime in the kitchen all in one piece.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.