Dinner From Hell: Singapore

August 30, 2015

in Accident & Mishap Stories

I remember Singapore. I learned a lot there. For one, Jack Sparrow doesn’t know Jack Shit about Singapore. In five years of working there I never once saw a tight corset, let alone it removed publicly with zeal and gusto. Quite the opposite, it’s a place of lawfulness. It’s a place of fearsome efficiency. And it was the place where I had the worst restaurant shift of my life.

It was late in the day, when lunch began to bleed into dinner that bled into dinner, and I was managing a theme park restaurant. We had maybe five tables. Maybe. But one was a fifteen top at table twelve. They were park VIP’s, who were celebrating the birthday of the host’s girlfriend, and the host was a twenty-two-year-old boy, and he paid for everything. And this was an expensive day. And he was just a little too young to buy it. I smelled parental dough. So from the moment he walked in basically it was like working in a picture a rich kid would post on Instagram.

So they ordered through one of the servers, and she got them their drinks fast. But after the first course went out (one dozen oysters) the kitchen started to drag. Partly the fault of the kitchen, partly the fault of the executives who made a theme park restaurant à la fucking minute. So now we got table twelve waiting for about twenty minutes.

And nothing’s in the window.

So I’m breathing down the kitchen’s neck. I get the head chef out the back. And in two minutes we got a few salads and a steak or two in the window. Then the chef starts working with an intern who’s cooking a cheeseburger, a cheeseburger that’s no doubt been cut from the most horrible cow that God’s ever shit into existence. And don’t laugh, because this is about to get real fucking dark.

Now, the chef’s on the grill, which is next to the fryer, and he puts cheese on the burger, which he melts with a butane torch. I leave the line to quick clear a table, confident I’ll only have to give the diner a quick handjob (rather than use my whole mouth) for making him and his asshole girlfriend wait twenty minutes to eat. But as I’m clearing I hear a loud pop. A boom. A dull thud really, and it’s followed by a scream.

And then: silence.

Now I’m a server from way back. This is like my twentieth year in the industry, and you learn that when dishes crash you don’t look. Keep your diner’s eyes on you, and control their experience. So I finished clearing the table, and bring it back to the kitchen to see what happened. And when I do I find line cooks filling hotel pans with ice and water like the god damn devil himself making them. Then they pass the icy pan down a line they’ve formed like an old timey bucket brigade to the walk in.

Now this is some baffling shit. I’ve never seen this, and I’ve had a restaurant on the second floor flood for fuck’s sake. The second floor. How does that even flood? (Fire hose breaks overnight.) Anyway, I walk into the chiller and there’s my head chef, staring at me as the entire kitchen team is dumping ice cold water on him.

Still, I haven’t lost my cool. “What happened?” I ask the sous. He runs by me to get more ice.

I grab the Garde Manger, “What’re you doing?” No answer.

So I turn to the head chef who’s still standing there, “Chef, are you alright?” He stares at me, with eyes half dead. He’s not in his mind. He’s just there. A team of cooks is dumping freezing water over his entire body, and he’s not answering. Just shaking. And staring.

I leave the walk. The intern who was on the grill is standing mute. The food’s still cooking. I walk over and say, “What happened?” She points to the fryer. All the oil’s gone. And inside is a butane torch. And it’s exploded.

Somehow, when she was done melting the cheese on the burger, the intern knocked the torch into the fryer. My chef shoved them out of the way and tried to fish it out. But it exploded. The force sent oil, all the oil, upwards. It hit my chef in the face, covered his head, and ran down the rest of his body. Holy shit doesn’t begin to cover it.

I turn to the nearest server, “Call park services.” He runs off to the hostess stand.

And then table twelve calls me over. “Where’s our food?” the young man demands.

I stammer, “I… I… I…”

“I don’t want your excuses.” He points his finger in my face. “My girlfriend’s birthday is today, do you know who I am? Do you know who I am?”

“There’s been an explosion. My chef’s face is badly burned. He’s going to the hospital.” I manage, “I think we have to close.”

He keeps going. “We’ve been waiting forty-five minutes for our food, where the fuck is our food?”

“Thanks for the great birthday,” the girlfriend says. “I really appreciate it.”

The guy turns to me. “You better get our food out here right now.”

“There’s been an accident, I’ll be right back, we’ll get you to another restaurant as soon as possible,” I say, then wander back to the kitchen to do… something.

“What,” he says to my back. “We have to leave? You’re kicking us out? After I paid 3,500 dollars to come here! I’m calling the press,” he said.

And he did. I shit you not. Remember, this is Singapore, and that’s not a weird thing to say. Public shaming is a powerful tool on the Lion Island. Only I didn’t give a fuck, because my head chef, a decent guy trying to start a family with his girlfriend, just caught a face full of frying oil and what the fuck kind of animal would be more concerned with the burger.

So I stumble out as park services arrive. They shut down the restaurant, get the chef to the hospital, and we all clean up the mess except for the kitchen. Work force investigators from the government would need to check it out so we kept it untouched, like a piece at Madam Tussaud’s wax museum if one of their spots was “the most horrible shit Matt’s seen.”

And of course the guests left furious. But then they lied to my boss saying I was cursing and abusive. And they lied to the press about how long their food took. And they even lied about what happened. You can still read about it all at the Straights Times. Of course nobody from the paper asked my side of the story, but that didn’t matter because I wouldn’t have been able to share it anyway, so who cares.

After we closed the restaurant we all went to the burn ward to visit our man. He was actually in pretty good spirits. And he healed amazingly well. I honestly thought he’d look like Two Face fucked the Darkman, but because Singapore’s burn unit is tippy top and the oil coated him evenly, he came out looking pretty great, and thanks to his wore glasses he wasn’t blind…

Sometimes my mind wanders back to that night, and I think about what he must’ve felt. The fear as the torch went into the oil. The unimaginable pain as it hit him. And I can’t wrap my head around it. But what I really can’t imagine is putting a ruined meal above that kind of agony. Caring more for one tiny part of your birthday than the rest of another person’s life. I’m simply unable to. And not surprisingly I was out of the industry less than three months later.

Yeah. I handled Philadelphia like a pro, and vacationers from all over the world in Hawaii like it was nothing, but the inhumanity I saw that day was the “fuck it I’m done with this shit” moment most of us have. And sometimes I miss the industry. I miss the people, and the fun, and the feeling of meeting the barbarians on our ground and sending their angry asses home happy and full. But then I remember Singapore.

I learned a lot there.

– Matt Abraham

Matt Abraham currently lives in China with his criminally insane cat Durden, his beautiful one month old son Kal, and his supportive wife Jenny. For more of his writing check out his critically acclaimed debut novel Dane Curse or contact him at authormattabraham@gmail.com and danecursepi.wordpress.com.

Dane Curse

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

RedHead0186 August 31, 2015 at 1:16 pm

God, how awful. Glad to hear he healed alright.
Sadly, some people think that throwing tons of money around means they get everything they want and they don't have to be decent about it. They probably didn't realize how bad it was (not sure that would've changed their attitudes, though)


flossiesdoll February 6, 2016 at 2:35 pm

Awful story. You'd think a place as regulated as Singapore (one of my favourite places in the world, but boy, they need to lighten up) would have really strict rules about not putting blowtorches down where they can fall into a fryer! I hope that restaurant has that rule now.


Diablo August 21, 2016 at 7:48 am

Happy birthday jerk in the story! Hope his birthday cake lit him on fire 😉 sorry to the chef, glad to see he's healing.


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