Would You Like Bear Mace With Your Pasta?


One problem with kitchen life is the lack of personal space. Imagine being in constant contact with three or four sweaty individuals who smell like garlic. Hangovers are common and so is smoking. Combining all of those results in a uniquely odorous work environment.

This lack of personal space can also be dangerous to a person’s health. I have suffered the consequences. It happened when I was forced to share my mis in place with my sous chef. We worked in a small kitchen and simply did not have enough room for a double set of prep. We had to share.

On the menu was a nice spicy Italian pasta. To make the dish we would start with olive oil and heatit to the almost-smoking point. Then we would add the chili flakes and “bloom” them in the oil. This causes the essential oils to come out and turns the oil spicy hot. (Blooming peppers in oil for pasta is a classic technique.)

A problem occurs when the oil is too hot. The oil is no longer blooming, it gets burned out in one quick burst. I learned this the hard way. I went in for basil and my sous chef went in for chili pepper flakes, leading with a smoking hot saute pan. I watched as he reached for the flakes, which were about 12 inches away from my face, and then tossed them into the oil.

Smoke billowed. It traveled quickly into my eyes, blinding me. I stupidly took in a sudden breath, one of those unintentional inhales caused by fear. That forced the chili smoke into my lungs. Did you know that bear mace is essentially vaporized chili pepper oil? Yeah, that's what I inhaled.

Just in case you see a wild cook...
  • Just in case you see a wild cook...

Instantly my body rejected the stuff with a forceful cough and hack, turning my eyes and face bright red. I stumbled down the line to the nearest sink and promptly vomited. I wheezed and yelled and used curse words for the better part of 15 minutes before I could see and breathe well enough to read tickets and stand unassisted.

Later that night, I had a training session with my sous chef on how to properly bloom chili flakes. Unfortunately, I was still the guy who had to clean out the sink.

Randy King is the Executive Chef at Sysco Food Services of Idaho. He has served as the Executive Chef at several locations in Boise including Richard’s in Hyde Park, Crane Creek Country Club and the Doubletree Riverside Hotel. Randy is a member of the American Culinary Federation and has been awarded the elite status of Certified Executive Chef. He can typically be found behind a stove making a mess ... and something delicious to eat.