by Oliver Benet
A cook getting cut or burned doesn’t make the news. In our line of work, it’s an occupational hazard. Just as every electrician has suffered a shock, every plumber has had a scare, butchers, locksmiths… not to mention the world of other dangerous jobs in which workers have to endure difficult conditions, like the emergency services, jobs involving heights, extreme sports, mining, heavy industry… the list goes on.
Fortunately, today in the West, all of these trades are extremely well looked after and regulated, with countless laws and safety regulations protecting their workers.
These laws exist in kitchen too, but then there’s the day-to-day. And often, the day-to-day reality of the kitchen requires that, for the sake of worker solidarity and professionalism, those laws get skipped in the pursuit of the end goal.
There are enough examples of this in our kitchens to fill a thousand books. For me personally, my most difficult moment in this respect came five minutes before opening at a restaurant, with a enormous and terrifying line of customers waiting at the door. Just before completing the mise en place, I opened up a huge cut on my finger. There was only one other cook apart from myself, and I wasn’t about to leave my partner all at sea.
As rivers of blood filled the kitchen, I finally decided to go next-door to the pharmacy to see if they could stem the bleeding. Obviously, they told me to go to the nearest hospital as there was nothing that they could do, and there I stood, filling the place with blood. What would you have done in my place? What would a normal person have done? I ended up doing just the opposite, and returned to the kitchen so as not to leave my partner alone. I made a sort of tourniquet, as if it were the jungles of Vietnam, and pressed on with the service. Four hours later I went to the emergency room, to see if they could save my finger.
As the unfortunate Anthony Bourdain once said, there are two types of people in the world: normal people, and chefs.
It’s true that the pace of life in big cities like Barcelona is crazy. A few days ago I went with some friends to a rural restaurant in the northern part of Catalonia, and though it was to be expected, what surprised me most was the ritual ceremony of the service, the slowness of the kitchen. We were on holiday, time shouldn’t have mattered and the food was delicious, but the time, the time… fucking big city life.
Doctors, doctors… people who take care of us.
I’m off work today. Right now I’m working as a chef in a chain of nursing homes. Some or other colleague left the handle of a pot over an open flame, which another colleague extinguished without letting anyone else know. Seconds later, of course, I grabbed the handle… ufffff. I cradled the whole pot with my arm to prevent it from falling on the floor.
The pain was unbearable, frankly. I had to put my arm into cold water every 30 seconds right the way through the service. After, I headed to the local hospital with a frozen chicken breast in my hand during the subway ride. Not the most bizarre thing ever seen on the Barcelona metro.
An injury I thought would take a couple of days to fully heal ended up needing a full two weeks of treatment, time off work, hospital visits and everything else.
To the doctors, then – thanks for taking care of us. Next time, I probably won’t come to visit you… because I am a chef.
*Oliver Benet is a Catalan cook and writer of the book “Per què odiava en Ferran Adrià?”