Chef Horror Stories
Exploding propane tanks! Coked-up celebrities! Oprah meltdowns! An emergency order for Tyra Banks! From Rachael Ray to Paula Deen, the world’s most famous chefs reveal their most stomach-turning moments.
The second-annual New York Wine and Food Festival swept into the Big Apple this past weekend, attracting more than 40,000 attendees with precious few hitches. But the food world also has its hazards. The Daily Beast got the world’s best-known chefs to share their worst kitchen horror stories.
The Surf Lodge, N.Y., Top Chef Semi-Finalist
I’d never been a Hamptonite, so last summer when we opened the Surf Lodge in Montauk, on the eastern tip of Long Island, I wasn’t familiar with the setup or how things worked. During a Friday night on either the first or second week, the propane tank ran out of gas, which is how we cook everything. It’s 8 p.m., the restaurant is full—there are 300 reservations in the books. I freaked out. My sous chef freaked out.
Someone happened to know a guy with a 200-pound propane tank at his house. So we took every chef in the kitchen—nine of us in total—and we jumped in a 1967 Pinzgauer, which is a European, Humvee-like military vehicle, and sped over. Actually, we left one guy to make cold salads. Lots of cold salads. And the servers poured as much Champagne as they could.
The nine of us loaded the propane tank into the back, and then lurched our way back to the restaurant across bumpy roads. Those things are highly explosive—it had to be the most dangerous thing I’d ever done. But we were back at it within an hour.
Food Network’s Paula’s Home Cooking
l was on the Oprah show when I dropped a glass bowl in my mixer. I didn’t know whether to shit or go blind.
The Culinary Loft, Top Chef contestant
So I did the birthday party for a very, very famous celebrity who shall remain nameless. It was great; we had all this food. And then everyone kind of disappeared later in the party and then I found out what everybody was doing: drugs. It’s people that are supposed to be good and healthy and clean and their reputation is great, but then actually behind the scenes they are doing what everybody says they are doing. You want to think that that’s not really happening or give the person the benefit of the doubt but then you meet them and it is what the press and media is saying. There’s this whole meal, and they just push it around the plate and you see what’s happening in the bathroom later.
30-Minute Meals, Rachael Ray television show, Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine
When you’re president, one of the things they tell you specifically is not to cook. But I’ll never forget cooking with President Clinton on my show supporting my Yum-O charity. He wanted to make turkey bouillabaisse so that he could show families how to get more veggies in their children’s’ meals. I thought was really cool.
Simple Fresh Southern cookbook co-author
One time we had to cook for 250 people and we were told we would have a big kitchen to use and crew to help with this meal, so we decided to make buttermilk biscuits and corn bread to order. Really if you don’t do it this way they aren’t even worth serving. So when we showed up the “kitchen” turned out to be a sandwich prep kitchen with no crew—just one girl who ended up having to leave. So there we were making dinner and 250 biscuits to order. You learn you have to be prepared for this stuff, though, so we pulled it off—but barely.
Pranna, New York
I cooked for Tyra Banks last week on the fly. It was great. She wanted a hanger steak and she wanted chicken stir fry. We think that she’s pregnant—we sent her a bottle of Champagne and she wouldn’t drink it. [Ed. note: Tyra has said she doesn't drink alcohol.] But she was a great customer; she wanted to take all the leftover food home for the next day. But the runners threw it out, and I had to make everything again.
The Food Network, Semi-Homemade Cooking
I released a springform pan filled with a chocolate torte. It went all over the floor. Complete disaster.
Inside Park at St. Bart’s, New York
When I was a young cook, Julia Child came into eat at the restaurant that I was working at. She ordered roast chicken and I ended up cooking her nine roast chickens. The first was probably fine, but it wasn’t good enough to me, so I put it aside. The next three I burned, the second two were undercooked. So it ended being nine before one went out. So that was when I was young and nervous. She was always a very gracious woman, and she was very gracious to me at the time.