Close quarters, lots of pressure and long hours can make for tight-knit teams and plenty of kitchen camaraderie. It can also make for some pretty entertaining pranks. From the benign (like sneakily covering each other in stickers) to the slightly more psychologically damaging (like setting the clock back during service), chefs and their fellow restaurant folk reveal their favorite workplace practical jokes in honor of April Fool’s Day.
From habanero powder in the cornstarch to shrimp tails in chefs’ pockets, chef Brandon Batzley of Café ArtScience likes to get creative when it comes to messing with people. His personal favorite is to take “this really old creepy doll I own named Joey (who happens to have his own Instagram feed), and put him in fish bins labeled “Grade A Foie Gras.” I leave it out at room temperature and wait for someone to open it and freak out.”
Chef Dan Bazzinnotti, who’s on the verge of opening Terra at Eataly Boston, has “a great prank that I usually play on everyone. It’s a radio controlled rat! It’s black, over a foot long with red eyes. When we’re in the beginning stages of opening a new restaurant I like to see how many team members I can freak out with it. It is damn funny to see a grown man jump and run out the back door of the kitchen in fear for his life.”
James Beard Award-winning chef Jamie Bissonnette has quite a few tricks up his sleeve. He’s glued a cook’s clogs to the floor on their day off, filled his sous chef’s tool box with Jello and salted his cooks’ drinks when they’re not looking. His go-to Sunday prank is changing the kitchen clock during brunch and then “when we’re close to being done, say ‘one more hour!’ to watch everyone lose it.”
When she welcomes a new cook to the kitchen at Metropolis Café in the South End, chef Dolly Bourommavong has been known to “have newbies help clean the walk-in coolers looking for the missing salmon leg. That kept them busy for a while.”
Commonwealth’s chef de cuisine Ellie Campbell recalls “When we had $1 oysters at brunch and Ducky, the garde manager cook, would get slammed. On his last shift we rang through 100 oysters and he started freaking out and grabbing everything he needed. We stopped him before he’d even shucked the first one, but he was shaking in his boots.” No love lost, though – the pair are engaged to be married and someone else will be shucking the oysters at their wedding.
Chef Joe Carli of Osteria Posto in Waltham tells the tale of an up-and-coming culinary student. “We had an intern who was returning to school. Everyone knew he left his water bottle in his reach-in cooler on the line at the end of the night. He had a few days off before his last shift, so we soaked the mouth piece of his bottle in a product called Devil’s Blood, which is basically pure capsicum, and then hid it until he was on his way out the door. On his first day back at school, he took a big sip in the middle of class, having not opened his water bottle since it was marinated. When he called the kitchen to ask who did it he seemed pretty HOT headed about it.”
Nick Dixon & Scott Macleod
Chef Nick Dixon and his front-of-house partner-in-crime Scott Macleod like to keep the spirits up at Lincoln Tavern. On a slow evening, they’ve been known to convince new barbacks, after they’ve been on the team for a month or so, “that we need to polish all the kegs in the beer cooler in order for us to get a credit from the beer distributors. It’s been a classic.”
Harvest’s Tyler Kinnet recounts the time “A couple of years ago, one of our veteran line cooks directed our newly promoted rookie sauté cook to microplane butter into the risotto to finish. Of course, the butter just smashed onto the microplane making a mess of his hands and frustrating him beyond belief. We only watched for a few plates before we let him in on the joke. Very much a rite of passage.”
“One thing that Mike Sherman and I used to do,” says Brian Miller currently of Hops Test Kitchen but referring to his days at Elm Square Oyster Co. in Andover, “was secretly put cheese stickers on each other’s backs when a new wheel of cheese came in. We would hide them too and hoard stickers for just that purpose. One time between Mike and me we covered Eric McLaughlin’s back with probably 10-15 stickers. Fun for us, not so much for him.”
The Sinclair’s Nick Venezia explains “My first real restaurant job was in college at a pizzeria called the Mellow Mushroom. Early in my career the chef asked me to get the “dough repair kit” from Sharky’s pizza. I walked in and asked for it back and they sent me to Andolini’s a few blocks away. This went on until I had made a walking tour of Charleston, South Carolina’s finest pizzerias – before realizing that dough can just be stretched. Duh.”