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.
Labels: Food, life, Work