Executive Chef/ Co-Owner, The Meatball Shop, New York City
"Back when I was really young working at Le Bernardin, there was this one guy that always used to put salt in people's soda (everyone drank soda back then). It was the worst. You'd be so thirsty, working on the line, and turn to take a gulp of your drink and it would be so salty but you couldn't step off the line so you'd just have to grin and bear it.
Well, in the back of the kitchen was the oyster station and we would line every plate with a base of seaweed to stop the crushed ice from sliding. In order to keep the seaweed bright green we would blanch it in boiling water, which gave it a beautiful vibrant color. By the end of the night, the warm wet seaweed would leach an off-brown viscous ooze into the bottom of the sink that was the exact color of the iced tea we served.
So, one day I collected a full cup of this goop and switched out his iced tea in the middle of service. I never thought he'd get the entire glass in his mouth before he realized and nearly puked all over the place. He got me back, but that's another story for another day."
"One time I took the hard white fat off the chilled beef broth and gave it to a buddy as white chocolate. Another time I told a cook that if he drank a bottle of balsamic vinegar one cap at a time he would pass his drug test. I also once breaded and fried gefilte fish and gave it to a dishwasher as chicken parm. He loved it!"
Executive Chef, Spiaggia, Chicago
"On one of my first days, one of the senior guys in the kitchen gave me a chocolate truffle. I thought it was such a nice gesture, until I ate it. Turned out to be coffee grinds that were wet and dipped in chocolate. It’s one of the worst tastes ever! I never fell for their tricks again.
Another time, when I first started on the line at Spiaggia, another chef and I were in charge of the celery brunoise for a steak tartare dish that was on the menu. Our sous chef at the time would do our line checks. When the brunoise wasn’t up to par, he’d make us start over until it met the standards. Well, when you’re a young chef you sometimes need to have a little fun to make the time pass by. So one day, we just cut the celery into random shapes and sizes, purposefully messing up our brunoise and then presenting it to Gray like it was our best work. Needless to say he went from anger to laugher in a few seconds after he realized we were just having some fun at his expense."
Executive Chef/Partner, Delicatessen and Macbar, New York City
"I think I’m able to write a book about kitchen pranks. When I was a cook, I was known to take sauce skimmings and froth them with an emulsion blender to look like a frothy sauce. Then I’d go over to a new cook with a big spoon of it and see if it needed any seasonings.
We used to make a batch of 'special' soup for anyone that was planning on moving to another job. About three to four days prior to them leaving, we would get a 5-gallon bucket and put ingredients like fish bones, fish sauce, milk, flour, and basically any other kitchen byproducts in it for the 'soup.' After the soup was fully ripe, we would get together for a kitchen photo. After the photo was taken, everyone would move away and someone would pour the soup right on the person’s head. It always ended with a smile and good laugh, though, because the person had been expecting it at some point."
Executive Chef/Partner, Tru, Chicago
"I played a prank on the dishwashers recently by sneaking 30 pounds of dry ice into the machine without them knowing about it, and they all freaked out because they thought it was blowing up! Hot water cycle + dry ice = drama."
Executive Chef, Boqueria, New York City
"In Spain we don't celebrate April Fools' Day, but we do have an equivalent: every year on Dec. 28 we celebrate the day of 'Los Santos Inocentes,' the 'Holy Innocents,' and it is always full of pranks and jokes. One of my favorite memories from this day was in 2005. I was working as executive chef at the Hotel Torre Catalunya in Barcelona. Late that night while we were cleaning up from service we were all joking around and trying to pull off pranks on each other with little luck. Someone brought up Angel, a sous-chef that was off that evening. We tracked down the GM of the hotel and asked for his help. We had him call Angel and wake him up at 2 a.m.
The GM explained to Angel that the King of Spain was arriving shortly to the hotel and that he needed Angel to get there as quickly as possible because he would personally be cooking for the monarch. Angel must have leaped straight out of bed into his chef coat because just minutes later, he came bursting through the service entrance of the kitchen and racing into the dining room to hunt down the manager. Instead he only found the rest of the kitchen team. Everyone burst into laughter and applause. After some cursing and name calling, Angel had a good laugh himself and grabbed the beer we had waiting for him."
Executive Chef, Café Serai, New York City
"Whether it be for April Fools' Day, or just as a fun prank, I love adding salt to someone's coffee! You can immediately taste the difference — and it's always hilarious to watch their reaction. But my all-time favorite is rubbing Thai chile on the rim of someone's bottle of water. Just give it a second then, boom - their lips are on fire!"