From tales of near vivisections to oozing, softball-sized burn blisters, cooking crews routinely scoff at on-the-job dangers that would make office rats turn green. Hopped up on Halloween, the Bite Club knocked on some local kitchen doors, hungry for grisly yarns of fire, mutilation and vampiric madness.
"I've seen pretty bad stuff," attests Fife owner/chef Marco Shaw. "I've cooked in six states, and I've seen people lose fingers in most of 'em."
Shaw remembers once when he accidentally poured three gallons of boiling water on his foot as a chef at Tuscany Grill in 2001. "I kept working," he says, "but I had to work with one foot in an ice bucket the entire night."
Acadia chef Adam Higgs managed to cut, poison and burn himself. As head chef at L'Auberge in 2001, Higgs plunged a oyster shucker into his left hand, nearly severing a tendon. "I just slapped on a Band-Aid and a rubber glove and kept working," Higgs says. "But the glove started to balloon up with blood."
The chef visited the emergency room and received stitches, but he didn't escape the oyster's curse. The sea-salty juice infected the gash, sending purple tendrils of blood poisoning up the chef's arm.
Two weeks later, while cleaning a grease trap, he dunked his still-tender hand into a pool of 600-degree oil. "I heard a sizzle, and then it was back to the hospital again," he says, showing off the spidery web of scars crisscrossing his left thumb. "It was pretty gross."
Chef Vitaly Paley recounted The Tale of the Stove Inferno that threatened Paley's Place last summer. "We tried to extinguish the flames with salt and baking powder, but no dice," he says. As the stove's knobs and valves began to melt, Paley received the coup de grâce: a surprise visit from the health department. While the crew valiantly fought the smoking iron beast, the inspector asked to see inside the refrigerator so he could check for a thermometer.
Ghoulish inspectors aside, it's Cafe Azul's co-owners, Claire Archibald and her sister Shawna, who win our vote for best spook story. In 1995, when Azul was still located in McMinnville, Chef Claire found a bite on one of the avocados ripening in the restaurant's office/back storeroom. The pair set mousetraps, but each day they'd find more ghostly nips on the same fruit.
The mystery was solved a week later when Shawna pulled on one of her cowboy boots, which had been lying on the office floor. A tiny baby bat was sleeping inside the toe. "It must have flown over to feed on the avocado each night and back to her boot to sleep," Claire says.
Ever after, whenever something strange happens at the restaurant, staff just refer to the culprit as The Ghost of Shawna's Bat Baby.
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Noble Rot chef Leather Storrs is hooking up with native Portlander Kurt Huffman to launch a salad-heavy restaurant in a to-be-named location in the Pearl. "We want to cultivate a rabid lunch following," Storrs told WW about the eatery, which is shooting to open early next summer. With large-scale plans that include service from breakfast until late night, French wines on tap and--get this--swing sets instead of stools at its bar, rabid is putting it mildly.
Skulls for sticky fingers! Make your own sugar and chocolate skulls with sugar skull molds ($9.95-$12.95) at Sur La Table (1102 NW Couch St., 295-9679).