Why I need The New York Times delivered to my house rather than steeling it off a strangers stoop.One evening during a rush, I degreased a good amount of smoking-hot grapeseed oil from a pan in which I was about to roast a portion of halibut. Unfortunately, the oil splattered onto the calf of my chef, Stuart Alpert. I distinctly remember the second and a half it took the oil to soak through his chef’s pants and for him to realize he was being seared from behind. I also recall him shrieking loudly and, covered in sweat, stare at me over his shoulder as if to say, “After all I’ve taught you, I should murder you for that.” Stu eventually cooled off and totally let the incident pass. I, on the other hand, was filled with remorse. After service, I asked Stu if he’d share with me a minute of his time. I took the ticket spindle on which we’d “spike” order tickets and submerged it into the deep fryer for about 15 seconds. I removed it and applied the hot spindle to my forearm for another five seconds to produce a two-inch stripe. Stu looked at me and said: “What are you doing? Are you nuts? But I appreciate your dedication to perfection.” This was the first of three hash marks I’ve carried throughout my career as reminders of preventable gaffes that put my co-workers in jeopardy.
I have so many scars that I can’t remember what they’re all from. But my most dramatic one I got while carving pumpkins with my sister when I was 12. With my mother’s paring knife, I was trying to cut a hole in the top of the pumpkin. I pushed so hard that my hand slipped right over the knife blade, cutting through the ligament of my right pinkie, blood spouting up about a half-inch. It was disgusting and hurt badly, but my sister and I were laughing about it. The doctor reattached the ligament. Back then, I wanted to be a pianist, but after the wound healed, I couldn’t extend my pinkie far enough.
Around 1995, I was cooking for Scott Bryan at a restaurant called Indigo on 10th Street. The huge carrot I was chopping lengthwise rolled away from me and my knife took off the tips of two fingers. As the blood squirted in a high arc, I nearly fainted. But then I made the tightest fist of my life, walked to St. Vincent’s Hospital and was operated on by Dr. Hand (of course). A double skin graft left me out of work for almost four months, and caused pain and discomfort for more than five years. I rarely think about the accident now, though it’s still quite strange having no finger pad for cushion. Moral: Watch out for big carrots!
I have scars all over, but they’re part of my DNA as a chef. One really bad one is on my forehead, which I got working on the line when I was young. I was making roasted duck, and as I turned around another chef holding a heavy pan crashed into me. Blood spurted everywhere, but no one felt sorry for me — in fact, I was yelled at for making a mess in the kitchen! Some of my scars aren’t physical burns or cuts. My stomach is “scarred,” in a way, as I threw up every day when I first started cooking because I was so nervous.