The Pain of Cooking

Sunday, October 10, 2010

-Seriously, she just laughs this off.-

“Oh my god!” I gasp and cover my mouth with my ov-gloved hand. Jackie, the assistant pastry chef, and I both freak out at the sight. One of the other cooks, Chuy, a hulking culinary genius, is rapidly transferring boiling hot stock from one pot to another. We watch as he misses the bowl he's holding and pours an entire ladleful over his hand. The stock runs down his forearm and on to the floor. The only sound he make is a slight “Tsst” sound out of annoyance rather than pain.

“Doesn’t that hurt?! Are you OK?” I say, stunned. I would have lost my nerve due to my intense allergy to pain.

“No, it’s not that bad.” He laughs and pours another ladle of stock. More blazing hot liquid washes over his fist. Chuy doesn’t seem to notice.

Working in a kitchen requires an almost super-powered level of pain tolerance. I’ve gotten by so far with only minor nicks and burns, nothing major, which is surprising considering my knack for hurting myself on a regular basis in life. Yet, the worst I’ve suffered so far is accidentally picking up a red-hot spoon that had just come out of the oven (it was being used to pin down a piece of parchment paper). Lucky for me, I came out of it with a minor first-degree burn, nothing I couldn’t work right through.

“It’s not pain until you get home and have time to think about it,” notes Hillary, a cook in the banquet department easily identified by her punk aesthetic. Her arms are a Smithsonian of pain, covered in scars of every color, size, shape and texture. These are proud medals of life in a place where one must exist in a sharp, slippery, and molten-hot world.

Everyone told me that before the internship was over I would have my own scar. I was able to escape body intact though the kitchen was very vocal on the movement to brand me on my last day.


  1. I used to be a line cook. One thing I found out is that once you've had your hands in 350 degree fryer oil, 212 degree boiling water doesn't seem so bad.

  2. oh wow, i never realized cooking could be so painful...yikes

  3. No kidding! I've always been pretty clumsy in daily life, but since I've started baking professionally, I haven't had a burn or cut-free hand for more than a day. Still, it's worth it. Some people bake to relax after a hard day's work. I bake for work!

  4. Garrett, look at the NYT from Sunday, the Week in Review section. They have a pictorial describing chef scars. Glad you escaped scar free.

  5. LOVE this post. It's great that you're inside kitchens seeing all that comes with curating a "Smithsonian" of burns. It seems like being in Pastry is a wonderful place for your writer mind to dwell. Cheers to you. May you get over your aversion to pain--you'll need it in Pastry!

  6. After 7 years out of a restaurant kitchen, my scars have faded. It's a little bittersweet, but at least now tears don't well up in my mom's eyes when she sees my arms.

  7. I managed to escape both culinary school and restaurant kitchens without seriously knife injuries.

    I did, however, manage to incur some nasty cuts from unexpected places: a broom handle, the serrated edge of a cling wrap box, and, most bizarrely, a half-frozen chicken carcass.

    It's always the unexpected things that seem to make me bleed.

    Don't even get me started on the burns.

  8. My worst cut was on a silicone mat. Seriously.

  9. Ah, yes. This is something I recently addressed with my neighbor (the 'real' chef) after deep frying a few of my fingertips. He's pretty well inked, but the scars were visible once he pointed them out. Apparently when your appendages begin to numb is when you're getting good. Love your blog, by the way, beautifully written and well done, I'll continue to see what you bring to the table (pun intended)!


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