Holiday kitchen mishaps of local chefs


Even these pros occasionally suffer a kitchen mishap, sometimes on a much grander scale than we home cooks could ever imagine. With many of us busy in the kitchen this week with Thanksgiving prep, we thought it prudent to post funny anecdotes from some of San Diego’s best chefs, bartenders and bakers. From tipped turkeys on the freeway to rolling roasts here is what they dared to share.

Michele Willard, beverage director, URBN Restaurants

“I volunteered to work a big pool party event for Patron Roca in Kentucky for about 120 bartenders. It was a million degrees so we figured we would batch and use slushie machines. We had two batches and one of them was marked incorrectly so two different cocktails were made in one. We could not let these eager, thirsty bartenders go thirsty so we decided to work with what we had. We ended up selling the cocktail story as a “small batch” exclusive recipe... but really it was a screw up.”

Andrew Halvorsen, executive chef, Moto Deli (former catering chef at Stone Brewing World Bistro)

“At Stone World Bistro and Gardens, we started a Thanksgiving tradition of preparing full, family sized turkey dinners, for charities like Casa de Amparo and Wounded Warriors with whole roasted turkeys and all the fixins. After spending days doing prep for 80 full turkey dinners, it seemed like the easy part was loading up the truck and going to deliver them. Someone cut me off while driving down the 78 and I had to slam on the brakes ... I could hear the racks of food crashing in the back. Luckily, there was so much stuff, everything dominoed over and landed against the door, so a couple of us were able to squeeze in and right everything and the disaster was mostly averted. I think a couple of families missed out on the gravy ...”

Jared Hills, executive chef, Hello Betty Fish House

“About 10 years ago, while working at The Inverness Hotel & Conference Center in South Denver, I was graced with the overnight shift preparing mashed potatoes for the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving Meal. The prep list included 1 ton (literally a pallet) of steamed red potatoes and at least 20 gallons of cream and melted butter. The layout of the kitchen made it necessary for me to carry all 2,000 pounds of potatoes back and forth about 40 yards from the steamers to the stand mixer, a task that resulted in a slipped disc in my back and about three weeks of bedrest. Thankfully, the mashers turned out great even though I learned a hard lesson in body ergonomics.”

Tim Kolanko, executive chef, Blue Bridge Hospitality (Mess Hall, Stake Chophouse & Bar, Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge)

“One Christmas, I was tasked with cooking the main course - a glorious bone-in rib roast that was going to be delicious. This I decided was the perfect opportunity to try out my new grill, a Santa Maria-style Rox Outdoor Grill. I placed the roast with the bones pointed up on the grill, thinking that this would be a smartest way to grill such a cut. Well, the surface of grill proved too slippery, and it ended up rolling off the grill and onto the pavement. To save the meat (and dinner), I had to quickly grab this smoking, hot, greasy piece of meat, hose it off and get it back on the grill, before anyone saw, to finish cooking.”

Alejandro Benes, partner and chef, Wood Ranch Hazard Center

“Several years ago, Thanksgiving was at a friend’s house. I had dry-brined the turkey for three days and took it to his house. He had an old, but very good oven. He and his wife did not cook very much. I delivered the turkey and told him to pre-heat the oven at 450 degrees for 45 minutes. I left the turkey with him and had to go run some errands and asked him to put it in for about an hour, then turn the heat down to 350. The problem was that this old, but very good oven had a dial on which the numbers had rubbed off. So, off I went, returning a couple of hours later. The turkey had barely broken a sweat. Instead of 450, he had set the unreadable dial to 150. We ate a lot of appetizers and drank - mostly drank - until the bird was finished much later than we had planned.”

Adam Koven, owner, The Cravory

“I actually make my own barbecue sauce from scratch. It’s a summer thing I love to do, so I made a big batch ... I usually bottle it and give it to friends afterward so I don’t eat it all. At one point, we took a bottle of my barbecue sauce and over Fourth of July weekend turned it into a cookie dough. We added smoked almonds, we had barbecue chips in there for fun ... we got super crazy and creative with it. It’s got a little spice to it, it’s sweet, it’s tangy and we thought it would be a really good pairing with the cookie dough. Once we baked it, it smelled pretty good. By the time we started tasting it, it was kind of iffy. We took it to the La Jolla Farmer’s Market that weekend and tried selling it for about an hour and just get people to try it ... we had to take it off the menu.”

Christina Pancheri, executive chef, Miss B’s Coconut Club

“My aunt bought a duck to have some extra meat on the table for Thanksgiving dinner, and it was still frozen the morning of. When we were having brunch at her house, she asked me for help. I told her to thaw it under cold water. We did this for an hour and it was still pretty frozen. Then, it was getting close to the time we had to get it in the oven, so we decided to try thawing it under defrost mode in the microwave. This helped, but still some parts were a little frozen. We looked at each other and said screw it. I scored the fat, buttered it up, seasoned it with salt, pepper, and fresh herbs, and threw it in the oven. I had to work that night, but they said it turned out delicious. Now my aunt and I have this great memory of trying to thaw a duck for Thanksgiving dinner on the day of.”