stand by your panAre you a klutz in the kitchen? Don’t despair! June 13th is Kitchen Klutzes Day, a day to proudly celebrate ineptitude with knife skills and controlling the cooking fire.

We all have those moments. That instant when you know you’ve done something wrong, something that will injure you or others. The kitchen can be one of the most dangerous, accident-prone environments, ripe with opportunity to strike — and for a klutz it holds many challenges.

I’ve always been one of those very accident-prone individuals. I’d look at a glass of water and it would spill. I had sippy cups for my coffee. My friends banned me from eating or drinking on their white carpets.

Then I started cooking for a living. I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea, except that I love food and I love feeding people. I did not stop to think about the scars and the tears.

The work environment of a kitchen is noisy and dangerous. As an accident-prone person I had to learn to navigate the pitfalls. It took time, but eventually I found my groove. I finally learned to “dance on the line” as we say.

Here’s some of the mishaps I suffered while cooking professionally:

  • Slipping on peels or grease on the floor (multiple times),
  • Cutting myself numerous times and needing stitches,
  • Burning my skin on oven doors, sheet pans, and grills.
  • Dropping pans of food,
  • Spilling hot liquid on various parts of my body.
  • Cutting myself while cleaning my knives.

One of my shining moments was when I was really super busy on the line. There was a grease spill on the floor and no time to clean it up. I went to flip a burger on the flat top and stepped in the grease. As I fell, my arm landed on the hot grill. It took me a moment to recognize the danger I was in. By the time I pulled my arm off the flesh was already seared. I’ve still got that scar.

We’ve all watched the reality cooking shows. In any given episode of Chopped there will be bandages wrapped around fingers and the chefs keep chopping. This really does happen. Even when there’s an accident, we staunch the blood, stop the burning, and get right back to work.

Sometimes the accident didn’t happen to me, I just bore witness to the horror unfolding before me. Take the time my chef sliced his hand open with my new Japanese chef knife.

I was working in a high end restaurant in a big hotel. The Chef came over to help me. I was cutting from a wheel of cheese and moving too slow. I stepped away as he stepped in, grabbing the knife that was resting in the cheese. As he picked up where I left off, the blade slipped and the tip went upwards into his hand. I could only watch in disbelief as the blood started running. We gathered towels, wrapped his hand, moved him off the line. To his credit he did not pass out. He wanted to keep working even after suffering such an intense injury. Security showed up and advised him to go to the emergency room. He waited until service was over before leaving. When he finally made it to urgent care, he found he’d cut through two ligaments.

I carried some guilt about this for months. It was my knife. I stepped away. I could have said “No, I got this Chef.” But he was a pretty big guy, and intimidating when he wanted to be. Most importantly, my training was such that when a chef wants something, they get it. He wasn’t an accident-prone guy, just not as careful on that night.

This is just one brief story, a peek into the working life in kitchens. How accidents happen to klutzes and non-klutzes alike.

Do you have a kitchen disaster story? Has something happened to you that makes you afraid to step into a kitchen? Let us know either in the comments below, or share it with me on Instagram using the hashtag #kitchenklutz, and remember to tag me, @kitchenshaman.

Here’s an almost famous clip of me cooking at a live demo and catching the saute pans on fire.

Chef on Fire!