A series of anecdotes with or without any connection to the running of a restaurant.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A burning ambition...

Toffee baskets cannot stand the heat. The strands of caramel are so thin that by the end of a busy service those that have not been served will have begun melting.
So, every evening, before service I made a new batch. Luckily, the caramel itself can last a long time if it is kept covered and free from moisture.

As the syrup has to initially be heated up to 170° to turn into caramel, the handle of my faithful pan had got a little looser with the years.

The early Nineties. Thursday, 6.30pm. Service started at 7.30pm. So I was preparing my usual batch of baskets for the evening.

All of a sudden I felt a volcano erupt and rivers of molten lava spread over my left hand.
I screamed with pain but had the sense to plunge my hand into a container full of cold water. When I took it out, some of my fingers were already covered in blisters. An agonising fire raged inside my fingers. The handle had come off the pan and toppled all over my hand.

Karen immediately took me to the local hospital. I held my throbbing hand out of the car as she sped through the streets. A doctor gave me a shot of morphine. The pain subsided a little. He bandaged my hand and I returned to work. Being right-handed I managed to serve 50 or so diners with the help of my two young commis-chefs.
After a restless night, I got up to agonising pain, the effect of the morphine having waned. The blisters now looked like over-inflated pink balloons. Back at the hospital the doctor insisted that I had to go to the burns unit at another hospital in a neighbouring town. There, the consultant announced he would keep me in for two days.

"Who the f… is going to do the cooking?"

Two days later, Saturday evening, 8pm I was sitting with a friend of mine and my young son at a restaurant some twenty miles away, wondering how my two commis-chefs were coping with a full house.

Karen came home well after midnight. I waited up for her.

"They did sixty-two customers! And not a single complaint!"

I felt both elated and disappointed at the news.
Disappointed that I was no longer indispensable to the operation.
But I was secretly happy. Happy that I was no longer tied to the stove.

My accident marked a defining moment in my life.
The moment when I realised that I was free to get out of the kitchen and plan for the future...

Nowadays, I look at my slightly scarred hand and thank my lucky stars I hung my apron up a long time ago.
Photo: "Mauna Loa." Online Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

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Blogger Merisi said...

I scream back ....
I can feel your pain.
I am glad you made it out of the kitchen (it's too hot in there! *g*).

Twice I got second and third degree burns on my hands. The first time, as a little girl, the whole of skin of the back of my right hand was gone. The second time, both hands. Having learned how to treat such large burns, at the burn unit during my first hospital stay, back in Austria, I rebelled against the doctors in the US hospital who were not giving my burned hands the proper attention, according to my experience. And right I was to insist: Even the second time my hands healed, perfect skin, no one ever noticed anything amiss.

20/9/07 2:49 PM  
Blogger la bellina mammina said...

OuCH! Am truly sorry to hear that! I guess you can call that your battle scars.

20/9/07 3:01 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

It's like being a parent, isn't it? Glad to see they can stand without you but melancholy at losing their dependence on you. Excellent analogy, Cream ~ and the restaurateur's version of the war story.

20/9/07 4:34 PM  
Blogger Akelamalu said...

A very painful but valuable lesson!

20/9/07 6:55 PM  
Blogger DCveR said...

Sometimes the hard part is to keep our nose away after someone else is trying to fill our shoes... at least I used to have that problem. Can you cope with it without stressing those who replace you?

20/9/07 10:25 PM  
Blogger Cream said...

Merisi, you must have skin that heals well. You’ll have to tell us what you asked of the US doctors. My son got burnt at the age of 14 and he went through Hell and back because of some incompetent doctors.

Bella, the battle scars are still here. I am glad it happened otherwise I would not have been able to explore new horizons.

Andrea, it was hard to let go, but the benefits outweighed the downside.

Akela, I think that things like that have to happen to show us a different path.

DC, it is still hard even after over 10 years out of the kitchen. I try not to stress those who’ve replaced me because I was in their place. Cooking is a very demanding job as it is.

21/9/07 9:43 AM  
Blogger Edvard Moonke said...

great post, cream. I suppose we all like to think we're indispensable, but really is anyone?

21/9/07 5:49 PM  
Blogger Cream said...

You're right, Marcos. We all think we are but at the end of the day, no one is.
Since getting out of the kitchen, it sometimes crosses my mind that things aren't getting done my way, but one look at the happy customers and I immediately forget about getting back to the stove.

21/9/07 10:15 PM  
Blogger kj said...

the restaurant business can overtake all 24 hours a day. i'm so glad for you that you know it shouldn't and can't. afterall, you've got karen and art and a world to wander through.

nice parable, cream...


21/9/07 10:30 PM  
Blogger Akelamalu said...

PS I took your advice and published my Dad's book on LULU - thanks. I'll do a post about it soon.

22/9/07 10:37 AM  
Blogger Merisi said...

your instant reaction to put the burn under cold running water was an excellent one. If you get a bad burn, you want to stop the heat from continuing to damage soft tissues, escecially not muscles and sinews (with 3rd degree burn they are exposed). Water can of course carry the risk of infection, I have been told to try to shield the wound with aluminium foil, better yet, keep those "instant ice packs" within easy reach in the kitchen (these are the ice packs that need no refrigeration, they use a chemical reaction to produce an instant cold pack).

At the hospital I have been told (and observed), that it is very important to try to remove any dead skin and/or tissues. Then to apply a moisturizing cream (a medicated one, I guess), so the wound stays moist at all times! Daily did they soak my hands in a camomile bath. I had to insist on that at GU Hospital, they had tried to convince me that their new-fungled artifical net, which they had applied over my wound would keep it moist and fasten healing: I could already after the first night feel that it was drying out and running the risk of scarring. If I hadn't had that prior burn experience in Austria, and followed their counsel, which was coming back after a week (!), I am convinced deep irreversible scarring would have had occurred by then and who know how well I could have used those hands again! After each soaking bath, all dead loose tissue was removed, every single time.
I apologize for taking up all this comment space, but having lived through three bad burns (and having the scars from the first, badly treated one), it is an issue very close to me and if I can help just one person avoiding unnecessary agony, I would be happy.

Frist Aid courses and the acquired knowledge may also be live savers. Think about the Heimlich exercise to help a choking person (and learn to recognize a choking person, which may be, shockingly hard to see!).

I leave it at that, you get the drift. ;-)

22/9/07 3:14 PM  
Blogger Mélanie said...

There is always something good that comes out from something bad and painful !!!

22/9/07 3:22 PM  
Blogger Cream said...

Merisi, thank you very much for this info. It is amazing that you didn't end up with scars!
When my son got burnt, the doctor took a graft from his thigh. The grafted area healed but the new donor area got worse and worse. They used some of that netting stuff it made it worse because the skin grew over it. It was a horrendous couple of months!!

Mélanie, most of the time we learn more when we are put to the test.

22/9/07 6:38 PM  
Blogger zooms said...

It's amazing what some of us go through to learn how to trust and to let go. I wonder if there is ever an easier way.
In the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes,
"Let there be no mistake about it, for you have earned it by the hard choices of your life.If you are asked your nationality, ethnic origin or blood line, smile enigmatically. Say,
"Scar clan."

22/9/07 7:20 PM  
Blogger Cream said...

Akela, I'm glad you've managed to publish your book. I like the title.

23/9/07 10:23 AM  
Blogger Hayden said...

what a dramatic moment, Cream! Caramel is so wonderful - and so incredibly dangerous.

23/9/07 8:30 PM  
Blogger Cream said...

Zooms, those are wise words. Scarred for life and proud of it...

Hayden, I love caramel but I am in awe of it when it's boiling hot.
Hope your European trip is going well. I'm off to Spain in a few days.

23/9/07 11:58 PM  
Blogger Merisi said...

I am so sorry your son had to go through this suffering! The same would have happened to me the third time around, if I hadn't had my prior positive experience.
I am glad you made it out of the kitchen, managing a restaurant and cooking is a killer.
I wish you a great time in Spain, may you encounter all the sunshine you missed out on during your wet summer! :-)

24/9/07 11:27 AM  
Blogger Cream said...

We now laugh at his war scars...
Yes, getting out of the kitchen allowed me to move on and be able to just "up and away" whenever I wanted.
I shall try to warm up a bit and store a bit of sun because up here, it seems that winter has started...

24/9/07 12:44 PM  
Blogger The Aunt said...


7/10/07 5:54 PM  

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