Kiwi Kitchen Confidential: Wild tales from three decades as a chef

Today he’s one of Christchurch’s most successful chefs, commanding a six-figure salary at the age of 38 and running a kitchen in an establishment with thousands of visitors a week.

It wasn’t always easy, though.

Matty – who asked to be anonymised as he shared these stories – started at the bottom as a lowly kitchen hand. Matty worked his way up from a working men’s club in the late 90s to steakhouse restaurants, hotel buffet kitchens, and now leads a brigade of chefs running multiple outlets .

Those stories you hear about the restaurant industry being full of vulgarity, kitchen fights, abuse, injuries, substance abuse, burns and broken hearts?

Matty has seen it all, so here are seven astonishing tales of kitchen calamities.

1 – Dubya T, the Scared Straight stabbing chef

At a popular Christchurch steakhouse, Matty had the fortune – or misfortune – of working alongside an up-and-coming junior chef whose claim to fame was he had once been on a Scared Straight programme at Burnham Military Camp.

What got him sent there?

Stabbing someone, apparently. This turned out to be not the last time the stabbing chef would behave a little bit, er, stabby…

“Dubya T was a white trash junior chef who our head chef gave a chance to. He saw a bit of himself in the poor kid – except, Dubya was a pest to work with in the kitchen. We’d nicknamed him White Trash – or Dubya T, for short.

One particular day, Dubya and the duty manager got into an argument because some food wasn’t plated well-enough. Things escalated quickly and Dubya said to our duty manager – after reminding him of his stabbing experience – “Would you like to be my second?”

Later, they sat Dubya T down for a formal warning. When asked why the company should keep him, Dubya’s only reply was “Er, because I’m funny?”

I saw Mr T ten years later when I was running a hotel kitchen. He was looking for a job, and I took one look at him and told him to get lost.

Last we heard, he was head chef of a shitty pool bar where the only meal he cooks is chips.”

2 – Meth Chef

“Working in Melbourne in a small restaurant, the owner desperately wanted three hats (the Melbourne Age newspaper awards ‘hats’ as a rating of restaurants, so having three hats was considered the equivalent of Michelin Stars).”

“The owner spent money like crazy to try and get his hats, even paying to bring in a reputedly-fancy high-flying chef to make the joint classy.

The chef had years of impressive work behind him and he cost good money. The only problem was all that money was going up chef’s nose.

Yep, the first week’s paycheque went up the guy’s nose.

He got enough money that first week to pay for a nice 48-hour cocaine binge – and then he came into work. I was working brunch that day. Meth Chef, as we nicknamed him after the first day, arrived late, storming into his office. Instead of, y’know, cooking, the dude locked his office door. The dishy and I looked at each other like ‘What the fuck is up with him?!’

Ten minutes later, our $100,000 chef still hadn’t come out to lead the kitchen. We knocked on his office door.

Silence.

We managed to slap lunch together but by 3pm, our man was still sealed in his office.

Finally, at 10pm – so my colleagues told me – Meth Chef emerged and went home.

The next day he had the audacity to come into work like nothing had happened.

However, the owner had a camera in the office, it turned out.

He’d watched his hugely expensive chef come in off his coke high and sleep at the desk all day. He promptly fired the guy and sadly, our restaurant never got a single hat.”

3- The earthquake and the buffet

“September 2010, the first of two terrible earthquakes within six months wrecked the Garden City. It ruined a number of buildings around town, closed streets, and killed a person – but the hotel at which I worked soldiered on. There was money to be made.”

Matty was accustomed to being bullied into working horrendous hours in all conditions, so an earthquake was apparently insufficient reason to not show up to work.

“The morning of the quake I woke up and the central city had gone crazy. I was stopped by the police multiple times going into the CBD, and all I had to say to them was, ‘My boss says I have to come in and he won’t take no for an answer. You try telling him I need a day off.’”

“The hotel, when I got there, had no water, no electricity… and 300 guests stuck in hotel on package tours with no way out and nothing to eat. The general manager wants to feel all of the guests, I was told. As in, all of them. Let’s get to work.”

“This was lunch time. We pulled everything out of the fridge, freezer and larder and got to work.

“The unspoken expectation: ‘We can charge them heaps they have no where else to go.’

Yeah, the hotel boss was a total dick.

With the generator flickering on and off we roasted, fried, boiled, baked, sauteed and served 300 people in a feeding miracle Jesus would have been proud of.

Amazingly, it was all good food and the buffet was a big success – though it used everything we had in the freezer.”

“At the end of that day, we all went home and drank heavily, vowing we would never try to do business through an earthquake again. That was, until February 22 2011… After that, the hotel closed permanently. So did the mouth of Mister Disaster Dollars himself, the General Manager.”

4 – Guest chef scalded by hot stock

Will came all the way from merry old England to join Matty working in the kitchen at a legendary fine dining bistro in Christchurch.

After one horrifying experience, though, Will couldn’t get back on his plane quickly enough.

“Will was having a typical day at work when we decided to make beef stock – y’know, boiling and condensing large amounts of tomato and roasted beef bones with bouquet garni.”

“We boiled this stuff in two 50-litre pots then took it off the stove to be, ideally, carried outside the kitchen for the dish hand to strain.

Carrying a massive pot of boiled condensed oily stock – what could possibly go wrong?

Well, the kitchen tiles went wrong, for a start. Will was walking backwards with me holding the other side of the stock pot when he slipped over.

Will wasn’t entirely covered – just half of him, including his face and 50% of his body.

Amid the shock, the venue owner tried to run his body under cold water using the dish-cleaning spray hose. It wasn’t enough, and Will had to be rushed to hospital.

I will honestly never forget his screams from that day – particularly when moving any hot pot.”

“I only saw the guy once after that. Will looked like Two Face, throbbing red and melted on one side. 

It left Will with lasting burns and he fled the country, returning to his native UK.”

5- Choking Jizz

The scene: a fine dining restaurant operated by one of Christchurch’s top restauranteurs.

The chef: Jeremy, a commis chef who Matty’s team nicknamed Jez, Jezza, or Jizz.

“Jizz was annoying as hell. He considered himself always right about everything, even though the guy was only a junior / commis chef.”

“At the time, I was a lowly dish hand. My friend Charlie was also a commis chef, and Jizz’s equal, in terms of hierarchy. Of course Jizz considered himself superior, though.”

“Jizz always had to have a comment about cleanliness, about prep levels, about seasoning… The guy was incredibly annoying. We prayed for his comeuppance… and come up it sure did.

After we installed a swear jar to make ours a ‘Clean Kitchen’ [no swearing] it was all fun and games, and I put in plenty of money when called out. However, our other chef, Charlie, was struggling during a busy service, slammed with insane demands. Needless to say, he let rip a few cuss words. Jizz wouldn’t forgive any of it, and repeatedly called him out for swearing, yelling ‘That’s a dollar! That’ll be another dollar!’”

“There was only so much Chef Charlie could take. When Jizz went around the corner to the pastry section, a disturbing sound swiftly followed. Peeking around the corner, I glimpsed something beautiful and spectacular which I still touch myself over: Chef Charlie had Jizz against the wall, hand around his throat, screaming at him for the crime of, well, being a cunt, basically.

Jizz locked eyes with me, begging for relief.

When it finally broke up, he came to me and said, “You saw that, mate – didn’t you?”

“Didn’t see a thing,” I replied. 

The heavens aligned, and soon enough Chef Charlie was promoted over Jizz.

As for Jizz, he quit immediately, causing a huge scene.

I next saw him three years later, working at KFC.

“I’m getting the inside scoop so I can buy a franchise of my own,” Jizz tried telling me.

Yeah nah, Jizz. Yeah, nah.

6- That time we stabbed a customer through the mouth.

“I once found myself working with a superior chef who plenty of great ideas about desserts – and one particularly stupid idea. This chef was convinced that instead of glazing the top crust of a crème brulee with a gas torch to caramelise and harden the sugar, the better idea would be to melt the sugar in a pan and pour it over the crème.

I tried to tell him that bad things can happen if the top crust is too thick, but my superior chef wouldn’t listen.”

“One fairly typical night, we received an order for a crème brulee and head chef prepared it in his own special way: make the sugar insanely hot; pour it on the cold crème; watch it harden; serve it up; let the customer enjoy the crunchy shatter of a caramel top layer which is the equivalent of broken glass.”

“We sent the dessert out then carried on working.

Minutes later, the waitress rushed into the kitchen.

‘There’s been an accident,’ she gasped. “It’s the crème brulee.”

We rushed out to see what was causing the commotion.

There was blood on the white table cloth and a woman with hands around her throat.

“What had happened was our unsuspecting customer had broken through the Caramel Fort Knox, shattering the sugar seal and filling her dessert bowl with the pieces. Unsurprisingly, the first bite sent a spiny shard of edible glass directly through the flesh of her cheek, puncturing a hole.

Needless to say, the meal was, er, complimentary, and the next time we made crème brulee, I made it my way: a whole lot safer.”

7 – You can lead a whore to water…

“One of our favourite customers at a certain Canterbury executive dining establishment was a gentleman who’d made a lot of money from… er… something we never figured out. All we knew was he had to travel to Canterbury monthly and we were always delighted to serve him and his, er, guests. Female guests. Female guests who cost money to rent for the night, if you know what I mean.”

“The gentleman needed company, and who could blame him?

Now, he chose to obtain company by paying for it. Yes, ladies of the night, working girls, escorts, call them what you will: he paid to wine, dine, and presumably 69 these prostitutes. It was an open secret – plus the women didn’t exactly disguise their identity.”

“Now, most of the girls appreciated being treated to $500 bottles of wine and three course dinners… all except for one. This hooker was in a negative mood the minute our lovely customer brought her through the door. She bitched about the amuse bouche, sulked through the entree, grumbled through the tasting platter, and complained while sipping expensive wine.

This woman didn’t make it to the mains. It was barely 20 minutes before she threw glasses on the ground, yelled, abused her John, raged at the wait staff and made sure the whole restaurant – including us staff in the kitchen – heard her asking him ‘I DON’T BELONG HERE, WHY THE FUCK DID YOU BRING ME HERE?’”

“The tempestuous couple left before dessert. As far as we know, John lost his taste for expensive women, and he never came back.” 

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