Epic culinary failures

Every professional chef has kitchen stories and some of them — especially those about restaurant failures — aren't the kind they typically tell in public.

However, on 19 May, guests at the third instalment of Bacaro's "Chef's Stories" dining series got to hear some of these less-than-flattering stories directly from the 13 participating chefs in an episode titled, "Epic Culinary Fails."

The format of the dining series has chefs from different local restaurants set up food stations both inside and outside at Bacaro. Guests are given a pack of coupons that allow them to receive one small plate of food item from each of the participating chefs. If they still have room after enjoying that much food, guests can use two "wild card" coupons to get additional plates of their favourite dishes.

At the "Epic Culinary Fails" episode, a poster hung at each chef's station had a title and image that in some way related to their culinary failure. Guests were encouraged to ask the chefs to tell their story.

Bacaro Head Chef/Partner Federico Destro's station was called, "Scarface," so named because of a kitchen accident where hot oil from the deep fryer splashed on his face.

The resulting burn was bad enough that he missed a week of work, but not bad enough that he left the kitchen right away.

"Chefs can't leave when there are guests in the dining room," he said, adding that he finished off the remaining two hours on his shift.

Although the burns ultimately did not leave scars, they were scary to look at for a while, which caused a different problem for Destro.

"I had just started going out with my wife and I didn't want her to see me like that, so I didn't see her for a week."

In most cases, the dishes served by the chefs related to the kitchen failure. In Destro's case, his cheddar cheese brûlée was topped with asparagus tempura, appropriately deep fried in oil.

Carnivore Chef Dylan Benoit's epic failure happened when he was a chef at the now-closed Osetra Bay restaurant in West Bay.

"I torched a big pot of lobster bisque," he said. "Once you burn the bottom of the pot, you can't get that flavour out. We had to dump the whole thing."

For the event, Benoit served the famous soup at his station.

"This is my lobster bisque redemption."

Bestlife Culinary Chef Maureen Cubbon's epic fail also happened in a dining room here on Grand Cayman. While serving chateaubriand beef tableside, she accidentally flung a burning ember onto a guest's rabbit hair jacket.

"The whole dining room smelled of burnt hair," she said. "We had to replace the jacket."

Fire was also an element of private chef Eliot Wilkie's "Master Disaster."

Working at a wedding in Wales when he was 16 years old, Wilkie tried to open a chaffing dish with one hand while holding something else in his other hand and accidentally knocked the tin holding the burning chaffing gel onto a guest.

"I set fire to the bride's auntie's dress," he said.

The epic fail of Stefano Franceschi of Gelato & Co. in Camana Bay occurred in Italy more than 20 years ago.

"I was filling a pitcher with chocolate syrup from a 60-litre container and I got distracted," he said. "Next thing I knew, there was a lake of chocolate coming under the door out of the kitchen. It took two days to clean it all up."

Twenty-five years later, Luca Restaurant Chef Luca Cocchieri still hasn't lived down the epic fail he caused at a big wedding in Italy when he was 15 years old.

Charged with making the gnocchi for the main course, Cocchieri made a mistake when mixing the ingredients. He knew he made a mistake, but was afraid to tell the head chef and hoped nobody noticed. However, when added to boiling water, the gnocchi dissolved into a gooey mess and couldn't be served.

"The chef made me go out and tell the bride we couldn't serve the main course for her wedding because of me," he said, adding that the bride was understanding and just asked that they make something else instead. However, his colleagues have been less forgiving.

"They found me on social media recently and said, 'We see you have gnocchi on the menu. Are you sure that's a good idea?"

For the Chef's Stories event, however, Cocchieri served gnocchi, cooked to perfection.

All of the stories told by the chefs had a happy ending though, as they each said the same thing: "I didn't get fired."

The final episode of the Chef's Stories series takes place on a Saturday evening to be determined in November.


This article appears in print in the July 2021 edition of Camana Bay Times, written by Alan Markoff.