There’s nothing like watching a master at work, but ask any top chef and they’ll tell you the path to professional cookery is paved with burns and blunders. Once-upon-a-kitchen even our Chef in Your Ear stars stumbled – big time.
Try to reconcile these early mishaps with the polished professionals you know now, and cut yourself some slack the next time your cooking fails – after all, even the pros’ stories are seasoned with mishaps.
Find out which ingredient made Jordan Andino blackout on national television:
“I did Chopped in the US and it was my first TV show; I had never been so nervous. It was the first round. I’m getting the basket of ingredients and I pull out three familiar things: purple spinach, baby tatsoi—I‘ve used that before; microwavable molten cake – microwavable cake for an appetizer round is pretty rare, but I’ve seen it; artichoke liqueur, okay I’ve never seen it, but it probably tastes like artichoke in liqueur form. Then I pull out the skull of a sheep. An entire skull. It looked like Hamlet. I was so shocked, I never prepared for getting a skull, I really didn’t. How the hell can you prepare for that? So when Ted Allen says, ‘Go! Your time starts now,’ on Chopped it’s real. I put the skull down and I just blindly blacked out, and I found myself doing this in the middle of the pantry. And then I came out of my blackout and I’m like, ‘Where the HELL am I?’ It was a total of maybe four to six seconds. And I come out of it, I go right back and okay, I start assessing everything.”
[Update: Despite the blackout, Jordan Andino tied that round, and won the next.]
Cory Vitiello’s home catering business was off to a great start, until a marriage forced him to divorce his plans:
“I started a catering kitchen out of my parent’s home kitchen, cooking for a few neighbours, a few friends, making pies and specialty cakes from a cookbook—things I didn’t really know anything about. One of our neighbours approached me about catering her wedding of 150 people and I was like, ‘Great! I’m going to charge, like, $1000.’ It seemed like a lot of money to me, but to her it was like, ‘Oh my god, we’re going to hose this kid, this is great.’ And I started working on it, and it was just impossible. You know, we’re cooking everything for 150 people out of a home kitchen…you just couldn’t do it. And I was, like, 17 at the time, and when I realized I couldn’t do it, I went and bought everything from a local grocery store – poorly made pastries and little hors d’oeuvres from the grocery store. When she came to pick everything up the next morning and saw what I had done, that showed me that I was not ready. That was the last day I ran the catering business out of my parents’ kitchen…I was 16, 17 with dollar bills in my eyes, thinking it was so much money. I tried to pull a fast one on her and got called out on it pretty quick.”
Rob Rossi was a teenage dud on spud duty, and the memory still haunts him:
“I was working at a steak house. I was working a veg station and I was supposed to be keeping track of baked potatoes. They were supposed to go on every two hours so you never run out. They were being periodically baked off and I remember I completely disregarded the timing list. And I remember it was a Saturday night; I was only about 17, and we ran out of baked potatoes. And it was a corporate place, so it was not something you can get away with very easily. It was terrible.”
As a young chef, Craig Harding made the same mistakes his protégés make today.
“You have to multitask in the kitchen and it’s not like you can just leave yourself Post-it notes of what you’ve got going on like what’s boiling, what’s roasting, what’s dehydrating or whatever. When you’re young and you’re not experienced, you try to do too much and then if things burn, things fail. There have been days when I burned a whole tray of candied pecans and overcooked all 20 pounds of potatoes for gnocchi, and then you have to throw it out. There are just some days when it doesn’t work. When you’re younger it happens more often than not. Thankfully now I just get to yell at my cooks who are making the same mistakes that I did.”
Devin Connell’s early kitchen fail takes the cake:
“Once I was trying to make a cake and I didn’t put any leavening ingredient in it, so I ended up with a cake that was like a brick. I didn’t know what I was doing and I couldn’t figure out what went wrong until I realized I had left out the most crucial ingredient.”
What’s your most memorable cooking blunder? Share in the comments below.