Blood in the Kitchen: Houston Chefs Share Some Horrific Tales
Chris Shepherd, owner and executive chef of Underbelly:
Photo by Troy Fields Underbelly chef and owner Chris Shepherd holds a house-cured ham.
Shepherd immediately told me that he had a gruesome kitchen injury story. He didn't need to go into anecdotes of other things he's seen. His own mishap was scary enough.
"I was breaking down a pig almost four years ago. It was the middle of service, and we had a full restaurant because we were doing a wine dinner. We put out the fish course, and I'd just gotten a pig in from Revival. I was cutting it, and I went into a feather bone (more like cartilage than actual bone), and the knife just went right through it and into my wrist. It split my artery right in half. There was a lot of blood. I just kind of tied it up and looked at my GM and said, 'You need to take me to a hospital.' It was really dark blood, so I knew it was arterial blood. He just looked at me cause he was so busy, and I was like, 'Just call me an ambulance, man.'
"I sat down for a few minutes and had the presence of mind to tell my servers to tell the ambulance to come around back, rather than busting through the restaurant. So I went to the hospital, and they put three or four stitches across the cut. And I was like, 'That's it?' And the guy was like, 'You have two artieries in your wrist, and you only need one.' That night, I went back to work, but within a couple of days, my arm started to swell. It was basically filling up with blood.
"I'm friends with the head doctor for the Texans, so I called him on a Friday night, and he called his hand specialist. Then I got a call at 9 p.m. on Friday during service. The specialist told me to meet him at his office on Saturday morning. I asked if he had Saturday hours, and he said for me he did. He was able to get me into the OR for surgery on Monday morning, and it took five hours of surgery to put the artery back together.
"I got out of the hospital at nine that night, and my sous chef was going to Spain the next day, so I went right back to work.
Shepherd still has a fairly dark scar on his wrist from the injury, and these days, he's sure to protect his wrists when he breaks down large cuts of meat. He wears a guard on his wrist, and he has a leather sheath in the works.
Photo by Chris Shepherd The scar reminds Shepherd to be very careful in the kitchen.
When you walk into Underbelly's dining area, you pass a wall of woodcuts. Two of the pieces -- of a hand and a knife -- are a nod to the incident, which Shepherd says he wants to remember.
"They're in remembrance and respect for what happened," Shepherd says. "That could have been really bad, but I was lucky."
Photos by Chris Shepherd