The Scars of Charlotte Chefs

Charlotte’s prominent chefs share their worst moments in the kitchen— and the marks they have to remember them
PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER TAYLOR

PETER TAYLOR

The Asbury: Chris Coleman

"Here at The Asbury a little less than a year ago, [sous chef ] Matthew Krenz had just come on. We were busy that night. I was scrambling to get a station set and was butchering a New York strip, a full loin. I wanted to cut the bones out and serve these giant tomahawk chops. I thought it’d be easier to do the whole loin than to cut them in individual chops first, which is a rookie mistake. I’m doing it very quickly, and sloppily, and scraping the bones toward my finger instead of away, and the knife ran right up the bone into my thumb where the thumb joins to the rest of the hand, right on top of that knuckle. I thought that I had just nicked it. Luckily, my knives were super-sharp, so it didn’t really hurt. I looked down, and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a lot of blood coming from that.’ I ran over to the sink, started washing it, and I could pull the skin apart where the cut was and see what I thought was a little tendon that was moving. It was part of the muscle, they told me later. But it was scary to look down and see the inside of my finger moving as I moved my thumb back and forth. I came upstairs and said, ‘I think I’m going to drive myself to the emergency room.’ Matthew said, ‘You look like you’re losing a lot of blood. I will drive you to the emergency room.’ So he went with me and I ended up getting five stitches for this little, quarter-inch cut. To this day, my son says, ‘Daddy, don’t cut yourself at work today.’ Every day.”

Note: Coleman is now culinary director at Marriott City Center.

 

PETER TAYLOR

Heirloom: Clark Barlowe

"It happened on Thanksgiving 2013. I opened a restaurant in Bermuda. The owner of the restaurant was an interesting individual, and never let us have lights on. We’d be working in the kitchen with just one window and trying to work with the lights off because electricity is so expensive in Bermuda. In the basement of the restaurant, you’d always go down there, and you’d just be feeling around in the dark to try and get where you needed. I was changing a keg because the keg cooler was in the basement. There was a big sheet of metal and I tripped over something and hit it, and it just split my wrist right open. Of course, Thanksgiving, it’s super-busy. So we duct taped it back together. It was nasty. You could see the bone; it was not fun. But I worked through dinner service, and then I went to the hospital. I just remember the doctor’s face as we were taking the duct tape off, and he was like, ‘Where the [expletive] were you? Why weren’t you here three hours ago?’ And I was like, ‘I couldn’t get away from it, I had to be there for dinner.’ ”

 

PETER TAYLOR

300 East: Kristine Schmidt

"One day in the kitchen, a No. 10 can of chickpeas or tomatoes rolled off of the shelf and landed on my foot. It hurt, and I probably screamed a couple of curse words. But it was busy, so I went on with the day. I didn’t really think about it until the days went on, turning into weeks, and my foot started killing me. I just thought it was something I could take care of during vacation in a few weeks. So I just kept working, working, and I would prop my leg up on a stool it hurt so bad. … Finally, I got to my vacation, had a little party at my house, and my dog was sleeping on the steps outside. I tried to step around him so I wouldn’t step on his tail, missed the step, fell, and then cracked my foot—the bone—in half. When I went for the Xrays, they said, ‘You’ve had a fracture for several weeks.’ I had fractured my foot when the can fell on it.

I got a pin put in my foot, because they said if you get the pin put in your foot, it’s not going to break again. I said, ‘Well, let’s just do that.’ I got that done and knew I was going to be on crutches and in a boot for six months. It didn’t seem like a big deal. One of the guys in the back is a drummer, so he brought in his drummer stool, and I would sit on that or stand on one crutch to do prep.

Two or three weeks into it, it was one of those sum – mer Saturdays where everybody [on staff] had something to do and all of my star players were not going to be there. I thought, well, OK. … I’ll get one of those office rolling chairs, and roll back and forth from the refrigera – tor, the grill, and then I’ll get up on my one good foot and grab the tickets [for orders] off the printer. … The restaurant had never been so busy. … The kitchen floor is sloped because it’s a really old building. So while trying to roll uphill to get to the refrigerator to get steaks and stuff out, if I let go, I would roll back, and I’d have to keep crawling up this hill. It was horrible. I was burning my arms on the grill because I was level with it, trying to reach and get something from the back. Everybody in the kitchen was afraid to speak. They didn’t know what to do; they couldn’t help me. At one point, I was trying to put cheese on a burger. One of the waitresses came up and said, ‘They don’t want any cheese.’ She’d taken the order wrong. I got so mad, I took the piece of cheese and just threw it in the air, and it stuck to something. I never found it. It was the night from hell.”

 

PETER TAYLOR

(Formerly of) RockSalt: Jay Pierce

"Fourteen years ago, I was a new sous chef at NOLA in the French Quarter. The most frustrating thing about going from being a cook to a sous chef is you’re not responsible for yourself anymore, you’re responsible for everybody. So I was working in the morning before lunch, and I was setting up my station, I had just sharpened my knife, so it was a good time for this to go down. I was paying attention to a conversation on the other side of the kitchen to make sure something didn’t get out of hand. … I’m julienning Smithfield ham—not Smithfield the brand, but real, country ham—so it’s kind of tough. What you do is you shave it, you stack up the shavings, and you slice it to julienne it. I was paying attention to the conversation on the other side of the room, and I knew that I nicked my thumb with my knife. I jerked my hand back, squeezed my thumb. I was afraid to look at it. When I looked at it, there was just a piece of it missing. I couldn’t tell how much. I looked down and there was a dime-sized piece of thumb on the cutting board. It hadn’t even started bleeding yet, and it didn’t even hurt. I was just freaked out looking at it. I squeezed my thumb with my two fingers, I picked up the other piece of thumb, and I put it under my pinky, and I squeezed my hand real tight. I didn’t want anyone in the kitchen to know, because I was newly in charge. [I call up to the front of the house to tell them to take over the kitchen.] I leave the building. I’m parallel-parked halfway around the block, and one of the cooks comes running after me and goes, ‘What are you doing?’ I go, ‘I gotta go to urgent care; Vladamir will be in charge in a minute. Everything’s set up and ready to go.’ He’s like, ‘You can’t drive a stick shift with one hand!’ So I slid over. He drove me to urgent care, but they looked at it and said, ‘Oh, you need a hand specialist.’ So they numbed up my thumb, bandaged it, put the little piece of thumb on ice, and we had to drive across town to a hand specialist. I get to the hand specialist, they numb it again—they must’ve given me like four shots in the base of my thumb. I couldn’t feel anything. Then they stuck that needle in for the first stitch underneath my fingernail, and I thought I was going to die.”

 

PETER TAYLOR

Earl's Grocery: Marc Jacksina

"About three years ago, on a Friday night [at Halcyon] later into grouper season, it’s 10 minutes before service, and I’m double-checking [things]. … I went back to my guys and said, ‘How many grouper do we have?’ And I just got that blank stare, like, ‘Grouper?’ So I run and grab my tool kit, grab my fish scaler, and run to the back prep sink, turn the water on. Hold the fish, pinch it, pull the thing over and, boom! I had a burn on my index finger so I was using more of my middle finger to guide the scaler. The [grouper] spine punched through the first knuckle on that middle finger and broke off. I pull out what I thought was the spine. … A couple days later it healed up and I didn’t really think about it. Then about a week, 10 days after, it started getting real angry; it was super-tender. Swollen. Obviously infected inside. … I don’t have time to go to the hospital, either, so I kept pressing at it, pressing at it. I could see it working itself up, so I took a pin, went up underneath the fingernail, got rid of the pus and the blood. … Then I start to see a small black little dot. So I’m going at it with tweezers, trying to pull what I think is the spine out. Finally, I get the black out, but I still knew something was in there. I was just watching [the piece of spine] grow out [under my fingernail], and it looked like a crystal. This thing grows out of my finger … ’til I can start to grab it with tweezers and wiggle it a little bit. Finally, I’m like, I’m gonna go for it. It’s woozy. It’s a very woozy feeling.”

 

PETER TAYLOR

Passion8: Luca Annunziata

"It was about 15 years ago. I was working back in Italy for a two-star Michelin restaurant. I was a chef de parties—I was in charge of meat, fish, proteins. We had a kind of oven that can do any kind of cooking, from steaming, broiling, convection, roasting, and I had something on top of the oven resting for a minute. The oven was on steam mode. So you can just imagine an oven with full steam in it. I was reaching over the top. Somebody opened up that door, and that steam shot up—it was from my wrist almost to my elbow. It was so painful. The first thing I did, we went to the hospital because it was bad. It was big, red—it was a boil, about a softball’s size. What happened was, the steam went right into my flesh, and it was red, so red, and then after, it just started to bubble. It was a second-degree burn. It was miserable, because it was very sensitive. But eventually it popped, so that skin came off and the new skin has got to grow on. It’s raw. My job was protein; everything is an open flame. I never forgot it. It was nasty.”

 

PETER TAYLOR

The Flipside Café, The Flipside Restaurant: Jon Fortes

"I was in college still and working at a restaurant called Deja in Warwick, Rhode Island [in 1996 or 1997]. The restaurant was open about three days; it was an older restaurant they had redone and renovated. I pulled out a drawer, and as I did, the drawer fell. So my natural instinct was to catch the drawer, at which time a cleaver fell out and hit my two fingers. It cut through my tendons and down to the bone. I had to go to the hospital. To this day, there’s still some pain. But it was just a crazy situation. My chef that night was a younger guy, and he had called out sick that day. So I was running the kitchen, and [after I went to the hospital] he came in to cover my shift. I was at the hospital for about 12 hours. I came back to the restaurant, and he asked me to close. I sat there and just, with my hand wrapped up and all the stitches and stuff, kind of sat there and watched as the kitchen closed. … It was a rough day and a rough several months; I had to rehabilitate and try to get the motion back in my fingers and everything. I was able to grab pans with my other fingers; it probably took me about three months to get full mobility back in my hand. I went back to work the next day. I didn’t use that hand, and it was a pain in the butt.” 

 

PETER TAYLOR

The Flipside Café, The Flipside Restaurant: Amy Fortes

"I’m awful at burns. My worst was at Mimosa [Grill]. I’d been at Mimosa like a year, and it’s a 12-burner range when you work the sauté station. Every time it rains, nobody wants to leave the Wells Fargo building, so they all come down to Mimosa and the surrounding restaurants that they don’t have to walk outside for. We were getting crushed. There’s a trout dish, it’s a full filet of trout and it’s pecan-crusted. You could flip those in a pan without using any utensils, and I could do that without splashing myself; I was really good at that. Well, I was being an idiot, and I had a piece of salmon—a good, six-ounce portion of salmon—and I had it in a French pan, which is the little thin, black skillet—super-hot. I had too much oil, and, like an idiot, I went to flip it before I put it in the oven. The oil went up over my hand and my arm in a wave, and just drenched my arm. It’s been six years and you can still see it. I looked like a tiger for years, because it just spread right across my arm. My entire back of my hand bubbled about an inch, and then I had these stripes of burn. I had a ring on I almost had to cut off because it bubbled on both sides. It was just ugly.” 

 

PETER TAYLOR

Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen: Alyssa Gorelick

"I’m on the line at Halcyon. It was a busy night; it was a Friday night. … I was working sauté; basically, sauté is where 90 percent of the food comes off. It was a heavy station. I was cooking duck breast, and at Halcyon we cooked a lot of duck—a lot. We were butchering probably 10 ducks twice a week for confit and stock and duck breast—that’s what I was cooking. I was working to sear it, baste it with a large spoon, and take it in and out of the oven at points [to baste it]. So during this particular rush, I splashed my right hand as I was basting with my right hand—just kind of splashed the oil on my wrist and my hand. It just was one of those things where it felt like my hand was in a deep fryer. It was … one of the most painful things. And I have a high threshold for pain. I can burn myself and be like, ‘Oh, that stings,’ and kind of forget about it. But especially when you burn your hand, and there’s so much movement. After that, my emotions just got me. I could compose myself and still be active, but I left the line. I started tearing up, just because your body is physically getting that emotional response. I tried to brush it off; I knew I had a job to do, so I just kept going. I finished out my shift, but I wrapped my hand in a really cold cloth as I was working, and I was still working with that hand. … I finished out the shift, I even cleaned up, but then toward the end I was like, ‘Guys, I need to go to the ER,’ and it was a second-degree burn on my hand.” 

 

PETER TAYLOR

Barrington’s, Good Food on Montford, Stagioni: Bruce Moffett

"Every year we do a rabbit pot pie. It goes on our menu [at Barrington’s] usually January 15, and people start calling in the beginning of December to ask if we’re doing the rabbit pot pie. We had these regular customers that called up in 2012 and they wanted us to do 15 of them for New Year’s. And against my better judgment, because I know what a train wreck New Year’s is, I was like, ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’ So everything’s going on in the kitchen; it’s a big night. There are four of us, and there should only be three people in this kitchen. It’s kind of chaos in the kitchen, and I pull the rabbit out and then put it down on a space where it was teetering, where it shouldn’t have been. I went over to strain out the rabbit stock to make the pot pie, grabbed the ladle and put it in the thing, and went to go do something. When I came back, I caught the handle of the ladle on the fold-over of my jacket. When I pulled my arm back, it pulled the whole hotel pan off, and it hit me right [below the waist], and it went right down my legs, burned everything from my [thighs] down to my knees. And I looked at Leslie [Agosta, a line cook], who was in the kitchen, and I said, ‘Leslie, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to take my pants off in front of you right now.’ She’s like, ‘Nope, that’s fine, got it.’ I took my pants off, and you can literally see on my legs, my upper thighs, the folds of my boxers, like how the boxers were ruffled against my leg. You can see the burn scar looks like I have boxer shorts on. I went out and got another pair of pants.” 


This article appears in the October 2015 issue of Charlotte Magazine

Did you like what you read here? Subscribe to Charlotte Magazine »


Kristen Wile

Kristen Wile is senior editor of Charlotte magazine and editor of Charlotte Home + Garden. Reach her at kristen.wile@charlottemagazine.com​ or follow her on Twitter: @kristenwile.

Also by Kristen Wile:

Playing Chef: Aaron Rivera
In the Raw: Naked Sushi Night in Charlotte
RockSalt: Creekside Dining
Charlotte's Best Bites: Chocolate

Categories: By Kristen Wile, Food + Drink, In Print