Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
With today being April Fools' Day, there's a good chance many of us will either be on the giving -- or receiving -- end of a practical joke.
But in the restaurant world, pranks aren't reserved for special occasions; they're a regular occurrence. And whether they're done to take the edge off a stressful night, haze a newbie, or payback a co-worker, pranks in the kitchen can be brutal.
Just listen to some of the best of them from Valley chefs.
Chef Taylor Domet, North, Kierland
Once, we convinced our new busser that we had to get air samples in the restaurant once a week to see if anyone was smoking and then turn the samples in to the Maricopa County health board. We gave him a trash bag and told him to go to the four corners of the restaurant and collect the samples for us. I think everyone in the restaurant stopped for a while and stared.
Chef Stephen "Chops" Smith, Searsucker, Scottsdale
I learned this one from [Chris] Curtiss: When a chef takes off his apron to use the restroom, you put an egg or two in their apron. When they pick it up to throw it on, the eggs fly and the mess goes everywhere. The best part is they have to clean it up. Not cool to do on a busy Saturday but great for a laugh. After that, we'll replace their plating spoons with forks for a double whammy.
Farah Khalid Chef and Owner, Curry Corner
I once asked a co-worker to make some traditional chai for me. The chai had a reddish tinge to it, which I chose to ignore. However, with the first sip it was clear that the sugar had been replaced with not only salt, but subtle amounts of cayenne pepper. When I asked if something was wrong with the chai, everyone in the kitchen maintained that what I was tasting was all in my head.
Chef Justin Pfeilsticker, Zuzu
When we had someone new working in the kitchen, we'd send him to another kitchen on the property to get the "left-handed smoke shifter." All of us were in on it. He'd look for it in the other kitchen and the guys there would say, "Oh, it's probably over there." The new guy would be looking all over for this thing.
Aaron May, Chef and Restaurateur
I was working for a high-profile chef in New York who was known to keep a cocktail in his Styrofoam cup while expediting. There was an incident where the chef realized that the new food runner was stealing his drink. As payback, he replaced his normal cocktail with a horrible mixture of lemon juice, veal stock, salt, soy, Tabasco, and God knows what else. All was going according to plan until the middle of service when, during the rush, chef forgot about the prank and drank it himself.
Josh Hebert Owner and Chef, Posh
This time of year we have a pretty good kitchen prank we play on the newbies. We have them pick and clean stinging nettles, but we don't tell them they're stinging. About five minutes in they ask, "Hey, Chef, why are my hands stinging?"
Josh Riesner Chef and Owner, Pig & Pickle
I've turned my sous chef's pan handles on the flame while he wasn't looking just to have him grab a scalding hot handle when he came back around. Also, the old watered-down corn syrup in the face followed by a bag of flour on someone's last day is pretty classic.
Chef Peter DeRuvo Davanti Enoteca
During a pre-shift tasting, I served mayonnaise creme brulee. A server got a big mouthful of mayo then asked, "Chef, is that Italian creme brulee?"
Bernie Kantak Chef and Partner, Citizen Public House
A very long time ago, someone brought in plastic poop, put it next to the employee toilet, and then strategically smeared chocolate ganache on toilet paper scattered around the floor and all over the seat. Most caught on pretty quick, but one actually had a bit of a violent reaction that led to some cleaning up of some other stuff. That pretty much ended Prank Day.
Chef Stephen Toevs The Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix
One of my favorites is filling a bucket with water and dropping another chef's knives inside. Then you stick the entire bucket into the freezer to make a giant block of ice. That one never gets old.
Pauline Martinez Chef and owner, Perk Eatery
When I was managing my dad's restaurant, we had a dishwasher who rode his bike to work everyday. One day, the kitchen staff took his bike and hid it in the freezer. When he went to throw out the trash he realized his bike was gone. After an hour of agonizing, they told him it was in the freezer. He ran to get it but one of the cooks was hiding behind some boxes and jumped out at him. The poor guy nearly had a heart attack.
Matt Marlowe Chef and Owner, Umami
I once sent the new cook to all our neighboring restaurants and had him ask to borrow their bacon stretcher because we were running low on bacon.
Jeff Kraus Chef and Owner, Crepé Bar
Line clutter makes my blood pressure go through the roof, so when I see items that aren't supposed to be on the line, I'm the first to prank. The last one I saw that got the most laughs was where the guilty had their keys taped to the inside of the toilet tank and was cued by hints and "getting warmer" clues.
Chef Don Newman Taps Signature Cuisine & Bar, Mesa
I found a jar of ghost pepper sauce once at my job. My sous chef liked to drink my supply of red Gatorade, so I took the last one in the cooler and dumped quite a bit of the extract into it. He took four big swallows before he noticed something was wrong. His face went beet red and he ran to the sink and started spraying his face and tongue. After that, no one touched my Gatorade again.
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Romeo Taus Chef and owner, Romeo's Cafe
All the newbies get to spend time looking for the pine nut splitters, smoke shifters, dough patch, parsley curler, bacon stretcher, egg shaver, ice warmer, gas sugar, and extra virgin butter.