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Top Miami chefs share their most embarrassing kitchen stories

Chef hands stock
Photograph: Unsplash/Fabrizio Magoni

Nowadays, being a chef can seem awfully glamorous. But even fabulous careers have their pitfalls. For some Time Out Market Miami toques, these not-so-great moments were also some of the most embarrassing things to ever happen to them in a kitchen. Fortunately, they all lived to tell the tale and, in nearly all cases, the stories themselves made for a good laugh. Here, the truth behind being a chef—sometimes it burns your crotch, other times it makes you get naked and in numerous instances, it’s so damn messy.  

Cesar Zapata, Pho Mo
“In culinary school, I was cutting jalapeños and took a break to go to the bathroom. When I came back, my privates started to burn and I had to run back to the bathroom. My instructor saw me and started laughing. He finally stopped laughing and asked, ‘Were you cutting hot chilis? Because if you were, you don’t touch yourself or wipe your eyes after.’ I learned my lesson. Depending on the chili, sometimes washing your hands doesn’t even help.”

Michael Beltran, Leña
“My god, I have so many embarrassing stories… It was like my third day working the fry station and I was 18 years old. I hadn’t bought myself a pair of non-slip shoes and I wanted to prove a point that I could work without them. While I was carrying a massive tray of things, I slipped and totally crashed and burn—feet up and everything. It was a whole tray of broccoli and cheese soup, and it went everywhere.”

Shuji Hiyakawa, Wabi Sabi by Shuji
“I was brining when it happened. I was making seafood stock and I put everything into the pot to braise when the lid just popped up and shot up. It was everywhere—fish, lobster, crab all over the ceiling. It was a mess and so hot but it tasted good.”

Suzy Battle, Azucar Ice Cream
“I made ice cream that sucked. I thought it was going to be a great flavor and it was a disgusting, non-edible thing. Thank god I tasted it first. It was a duck-fat soy sauce flavor that I later remade with brown sugar and gave to Richard Hales [of Sakaya Kitchen and Blackbrick Chinese], who now sells it. I made so much of it and went through so much trouble to get that duck fat, but it was terrible.”

Christian Plotczyk, Salt & Brine
“I lit myself on fire once. It was 1997 and I was working at Pacific Time on Lincoln Road, where we served fried everything. I was using something called the swing faucet, turned my back and my chef’s coat caught on fire. I had to rip off my clothes in the middle of the kitchen.”

Matt Kuscher, Kush & Stephens Deli
“My wife and I worked together when we found out we were having a baby girl. She was bartending and I was managing the restaurant when we got the call and literally went idle for 30 minutes. We thought we were having a boy and just started laughing hysterically and couldn’t go back to work. It was the only time in my life I’ve ever stopped service.”

Scott Linquist, Coyo Taco
“I’m always the one that embarrasses and never gets embarrassed. But back in my culinary school days, I was dating a fellow classmate and we went to the same class one day. The chef instructor kept calling my name but looking at the girl that I was dating. He kept yelling ‘Scott! Scott!’ and looking at her and I thought, what the hell is he doing? It wasn’t until I looked over that I realized she was wearing my chef’s coat the whole time.”

Norman Van Aken, Signature Chef 
“I had to kick Prince Stefano of Monaco, husband to Princess Caroline, out of my kitchen at Louie’s Backyard for insulting one of my (female) cooking staff and for smoking in my kitchen as he did it. Prince Rainier was having dinner with the rest of the family and it was quite a scene as they all packed up and hurriedly left. I was both embarrassed yet also kind of blissfully happy to not be bullied by him.”


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