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Too Many Cooks: Your Biggest Kitchen Disaster

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You'll be hearing from the staff at FOOD52 every week in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more.

Merrill is the inspiration for this week's Too Many Cooks question. Yes, Merrill -- who you can see here clutching her cut finger after a Horseradish Vodka Bloody Mary mishap -- who once "burned down her kitchen attempting to deep-fry eggs."

Maybe you've guessed the question by now. Hint: it's one that we ask all of our contest winners.

What's your most spectacular kitchen disaster? Let the mishaps and mess-ups begin.

A few weeks after meeting my now-husband, I was invited to a birthday party for him. It was going to be the first time I would meet a bunch of his close friends, most of them writers. I made my family's treasured birthday cake recipe -- the Chocolate Dump-It Cake. In the taxi on my way to the party, I admired my icing handiwork and discovered that I'd written: Happy Birtday Tad!

Last summer I decided to throw my first dinner party in my new house, and invited over a number of friends from my yoga teacher training course. I decided a raw cashew tart would be a fun, seasonal dish to make for the crowd. Once everything came together, the dish tasted amazing -- lots of cashews, berries, and vanilla beans. I set it in the freezer; just before my friends were set to arrive, I took it out and it was rock hard. Completely frozen. So I stuck it in the stove -- which was turned off -- to bring it to room temp faster. Only 15 minutes into preheating my oven for hamburger rolls did I smell something baking. I had forgotten to take the damn thing out of the oven, thereby baking my raw dessert. It looked dry and cracked around the edges, and I panicked. All was ruined! Luckily, it still tasted great and the sun had gone down by the time I served it, so we enjoyed it regardless.


It happened last Christmas Eve when I decided to make beef Wellington for my husband and his siblings. His brother generously splurged on the beef tenderloin and a black truffle for the Madeira sauce. The beef turned out perfectly (see photo!); not so much the truffled sauce. I knocked into the handle of the pan it was simmering in (a handle FAR too heavy for the weight of the pan, you should know, leaving it prone to wobbliness), and the entire pan full of sauce rocked unsteadily backward, and then fell straight to the floor.


Take your pick: The green velvet cake. The incident with someone else's very sharp knife and a fennel bulb at a remote cabin in the Catskills, which left me numb in the tip of my left thumb. The time I balanced on a faulty chair and belly-flopped onto Christmas dinner. Or the time I spilled a bag of millet in my purse and dumped it all straight into Amanda's trash, along with my keys (Amanda and Tad fished them out later, and even washed them for me).

A week before my due date my husband and I harvested buckets of apples from the tree in our backyard and decided to make applesauce. About three apples in, my husband sliced almost all the way through the tip of a finger. We got to spend the better part of our day in the ER, enduring endless jokes about which one of us was the patient, what a good idea it was to do a dry run to the hospital, etc etc etc. (It was his left thumb too, and it's also still numb!)


My biggest kitchen disaster involved a small fire when I was 12 or 13 -- to this day, my family makes fun of me whenever I preheat the oven -- but this one still stings. Twice (twice!) this past spring, I attempted to make a beautiful ramp-topped tart. And both times, when I took it out of the oven...I dropped it on the floor.

Amanda Li
For my culinary school final, I had to make a fresh pasta chitarra dish with peas, morels, and asparagus in 2 hours. Miraculously I got everything mised out: pasta rolled and cut, veg blanched, sauce made, station clean. It was 8:00pm and we were told to present by 8:20pm, so I figured that meant we could present before 8:20. I fired all 4 plates and finished plating by 8:05pm. Then my ukranian Chef walks over and said "Vaat are you doing? You must vaait for the rest of your comrades and present at 8:20." I then proceeded to watch as my pasta became dry, congealed, and sad-looking for the next 15 minutes. There was no more time or mise left to make more. It was so embarassing at the judges'  table.

In college, my then boyfriend (now husband) and I were invited to a potluck with professors (!). I had already made a lovely salad to share, but thought I would cement our standing as cool, mature students by arriving with dessert as well. I had a recipe for lemon-berry shortcakes that sounded perfect for this casual gathering. I cruised along making the lemon-flecked dough and a blueberry sauce, then the recipe just stopped -- there were no more instructions. Still being new to baking, I thought I should just add the blueberries to the lemon batter. This move produced an unwieldy, terrifyingly purple batter that we just shoved into the refrigerator. After the potluck, I baked the Smurf cake in the largest casserole pan I had and shared it with other hungry college students. They didn't complain.


This experience spawned the idea for the First Kitchen column: I got to stage for a day at the restaurant Vetri, and I decided I needed a proper knife for the occasion. I spent weeks researching. I finally showed up with my brand new, super-sharp knife, feeling good, feeling ready. I was then given a crate of kumquats to slice, and, within 10 minutes, I had sliced through each and every finger on my left hand. It was mortifying.

Not so much a kitchen disaster as an entertaining snafu, but this past summer I prepped and cooked a beautiful Friday night dinner for 6 guests. Too bad the dinner party was on Saturday, not Friday! I completely mixed up the dates and had to make dinner all over again the next night.

On the eve of the Super Bowl, I had 4 pork shoulders in the smoker overnight when the fire went out somehow (even though I'd had several successful overnight cooks before) -- I woke up in the morning to find that I had been given the cold shoulder. (Zing!) The choice: risk trying to reheat and potentially have unsafe meat, or just throw it all away (this is over $100 worth of pork, mind you). I chose the latter, and was so sad. (But I salvaged a tasty, smoky meal by smoking some chicken breasts and making a chicken salad, served on crostinis.)


I was five, and my mom and I were making a cake. I had hair as long as Pocahantas (the Disney version, anyway), and it got caught in the mixer. My mom says it still "makes her sick to her tummy."

Tags: too many cooks, food52 staff, disasters, mishaps, mess ups, ruinations, happy birtday

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