When you think of high-risk jobs that could result in serious personal injury or even death, you probably don’t think of being a professional chef as one of them. After all, cooking is a common task many people do in their home, leading many to assume that cooking for a living must be a fairly safe profession. Yet that is not necessarily true.
Working in a kitchen can be incredibly stressful, both physically and mentally. With the pressure of getting several dishes cooked just right and dealing with a kitchen full of people, being a chef can be quite dangerous at times. There’s a reason the old proverb warns against having “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
In 2012, Germantown Café East’s Jay Luther had an icy accident. The owner and chef of the Nashville restaurant, Luther was locking up the cafe after a power outage forced him to close for the night. He stored dry ice inside the restaurant’s large, walk-in freezer in order to preserve the food while there was no electricity powering the fridge.
The power returned the following evening and Luther decided to go to the restaurant to check on the food. That’s when tragedy stuck. The door shut behind Luther, and he found himself trapped inside the freezer, with no escape.
An Icy Death
The button to open the freezer from the inside was malfunctioning. Luther had no phone with him when he became trapped in the freezer, but he did manage to set off the security system to alert the authorities, hoping that they would investigate and free him. Four police officers arrived at the restaurant but determined that it must have been a false alarm as there was no sign of a break-in.
When Luther was discovered, he had been in the freezer for at least thirteen hours. Examiners suspected that his cause of death was not the frigid temperature, but rather carbon monoxide poisoning from inhaling the fumes from the dry ice.
In September 2012, Stephan Stolze did something unthinkable while at work. A chef at a Key Largo eatery called Steamer’s Restaurant, Stolze took a knife from the kitchen one day, walked into the dining area, and then proceeded to slash his throat.
Stolze, who was from Germany, is suspected to have been homesick and depressed. He had wanted to move back home, but his father warned him that Germany did not have many job opportunities and advised him to stay in Key Largo. On top of that, Stolze and his girlfriend had just broken up, which contributed to his breakdown.
Too Much Stress
Stolze was living in an apartment above the restaurant. After cutting his throat, he ran upstairs to his living quarters, bleeding profusely. The restaurant’s employees cleaned up the mess in the dining area while contacting the restaurant’s manager, who was in a meeting at the time. Meanwhile, guests arriving at the restaurant for a good meal were met with a horrifying scene.
When Robin Schaupp, the manager of Steamer’s Restaurant, made it upstairs to check on Stolze, she found that he was lying dead on the ground. What happened was tragic, and proof that working in a stressful environment can lead to a nervous breakdown.
In July 2015, a chef from New Delhi, India, was murdered. The chef, known only as Rohit, was working at Fidahh Restaurant, located in New Delhi’s Epicuria Mall. On the tenth of the month, Rohit informed his family that he was quitting his job and was going to collect his final pay from the restaurant’s owner, Navdeep Singh, before returning home.
Rohit never made it home. The next day, Rohit’s body was discovered on the floor of the restaurant’s kitchen. The circumstances of his death were quite suspicious, especially since he died on the same day that he was supposed to quit his job and collect money.
A Charge Of Murder
The authorities decided to investigate the death of Rohit. They found that Rohit had slept in the kitchen that night along with two other employees of Fidahh Restaurant. The report claims that the men had been drinking throughout the evening and that Rohit passed out, intoxicated. Still, that was not enough to kill him.
The court eventually charged Navdeep Singh, the owner of the restaurant, with murder. Singh was also charged with another crime. He allegedly made some evidence connected to Rohit’s death disappear. It was not revealed what Singh’s motives were, but he was most likely angry at Rohit for quitting and wanted to avoid paying him the money that was owed.
In Denmark, cooking is so dangerous that chefs have a lower life expectancy than the average citizen. The expected lifespan of being a professional chef is six to seven years less than the national average, making cooking one of Denmark’s most dangerous professions.
Danmarks Statistik published a report in 2009 which said that both men and women who are chefs are at a higher risk of passing away from illnesses related to work. Chefs are more likely to die from lung cancer, heart disease, lung disease, liver disease, and workplace accidents. Part of this is caused by the environment in which they work, not to mention all of the stress that takes a toll on their bodies.
In 2003, a French chef named Bernard Loiseau killed himself. Loiseau was a chef at La Côte d’Or, located in Saulieu, a village in Burgundy, France. La Côte d’Or, a Michelin star restaurant, was believed to be in danger of losing its third star. While Michelin denied that this was true, Michelin officials met with Loiseau in the fall of 2002 saying that they were concerned about the diminished quality of the restaurant’s food.
There is proof that Loiseau’s wife sent Michelin a letter in which she promised that the warning would be heeded and that Bernard would improve. The pressure proved to be too much and Bernard Loiseau killed himself the following year.
The pressure to maintain a high quality of cooking is compounded in the world’s best restaurants. Bernard Loiseau is not the only master chef to have succumbed to the pressure. In 2016, Benoît Violier of Switzerland’s Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville, also killed himself.
The French-born Violier was also the chef of a three-star Michelin restaurant—the highest rating issued by Michelin. His suicide proved that the pressure on chefs is often too much. He left behind a wife and a son, dying at only forty-four years of age. Fifteen hundred people showed up to his funeral.
The curse of the Michelin star restaurant chefs doesn’t stop there. Homaro Cantu was the owner of two successful Chicago restaurants, the author of two cookbooks, and the soon-to-be owner of a brewery. Shortly before the brewery was set to open, the 38-year-old chef was found hanging from the ceiling of the brewery.
The death appeared to be a suicide, but people were suspicious about the circumstances. He was quite successful and had not shown any signs of being stressed or depressed. Why would Homaro Cantu want to end his life when he was young and successful? Click next to find out.
Homaro Cantu was known for his unique cuisine. While his friends did not know of it, he was experiencing a huge amount of financial pressure. He probably hoped that the opening of the brewery would be a success and save him from financial ruin, but it was not to be.
Cantu’s former partner, Alexander Espalin was an investor in Cantu’s two restaurants. He accused Cantu of appropriating company funds and sued him. The charges against Cantu included using company funds for personal expenses such as eating out and going on trips. The lawsuit was Cantu’s breaking point, leading to his suicide.
Peng Fan, a Chinese chef, was preparing dinner in his restaurant in August of 2014. The special on the menu that day was snake soup with a spitting cobra as the primary ingredient in the dish. To prepare the specialty, Fan chopped off the cobra’s head, cut up its body, and began to cook.
He left the soup on the stove and returned minutes later to throw out the snake’s head. When he picked it up, the snake bit him—despite it already being dead. Emergency responders were called, but it was too late. The venom had already killed Fan by the time they arrived.
How could the snake have killed Peng Fan if it was already dead? Dr. Matthew Lewin, director of California Academy of Sciences’ Center for Exploration and Travel Health, explained what happened to Fan saying, “Unlike humans, snake tissue can withstand long periods without circulating blood. The tissue doesn’t lose function as quickly as a mammal and the reflexes remain intact.”
You’d think a professional chef would know this and take extra care! Peng Fan must have prepared this dish before. Perhaps he was having a particularly stressful day causing him to overlook basic safety protocol. A kitchen is already a dangerous place, even without venomous snakes on the menu!
Scott McLeod was a chef who was beloved in the cooking community. Known for his work at some of Philadelphia’s best Latin restaurants, he had received many awards for his cooking. He was described as being a friendly and likable guy. His career was on the rise and, at the age of 41, his career seemed unstoppable.
That all ended in March of 2015. At that time, McLeod was working as Alma de Cuba’s executive chef, in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. That evening, he was found in the restaurant’s bathroom and was unresponsive, leading his coworkers to call an ambulance.
An Unexpected Cause Of Death
The paramedics were unable to revive McLeod and rushed him to the hospital. He was pronounced dead shortly after. The autopsy revealed that McLeod had passed away from heart disease, a surprising revelation given that McLeod was in good shape. He was a regular gym goer, even described as a “workout fanatic.”
For such a young man who is physically active to die suddenly from heart disease is rare. It is a possibility that the stress of his job contributed to the deterioration of his health. What else could explain a young and fit man suddenly dropping dead with no warning?
In March of 2016, the owner of a Vietnamese restaurant in Philadelphia called Lee’s Cafe and Bistro went to the restaurant’s kitchen in order to check on the chef. An order had been put in several minutes earlier, but the food had not arrived so the owner went to see what was going on. He expected to see the chef, Thuong Nguyen overwhelmed with orders or perhaps in the bathroom.
Instead, Thuong Nguyen was found lying on the floor of the kitchen in a pool of her blood. Nguyen’s throat had been slashed. The 54-year-old woman was declared dead when the police came in to investigate. The investigation of the murder is still ongoing.
In the early 1990s, a Mexican man named Guadalupe Maldonado moved to Chicago with his wife and family in search of a better life. The 46-year-old obtained a job as a cook at Brown’s Chicken and Pasta restaurant. He always arrived home by 10 PM. One evening, when he had yet to return home, his family became worried.
Two men walked into the restaurant one cold winter night in order to rob it. Another employee was ordered to open the safe and had her throat sliced open. Another employee who tried to run was shot in the back. The rest of the employees were killed, resulting in a bloody massacre.
Elivelton Dias moved from Brazil to Peabody, Massachusetts when he was 38 years old. He came to the United States in order to escape the violence of his home country but did not expect that leaving would not result in a better life for him. Things seemed good at first. Dias got a job at P.F. Chang’s as a sous chef, where he worked for more than a decade.
By 2015, Dias was doing well in his career. He was married, and his wife had just given birth to the couple’s first child. Life seemed perfect, but then things suddenly began to fall apart.
Stabbed In The Back
Shortly after the birth of his baby, Dias was found lying on the kitchen floor of P.F. Chang’s. He had been stabbed in the back. The sous chef was rushed to the hospital where he was declared dead. The murderer was another chef at the restaurant, 23-year-old Jaquan Huston. The two men got into a fight, which Huston decided to resolve by drawing a knife and stabbing Dias.
Huston fled the scene of the crime after realizing he had killed Dias. He was later apprehended at his home and was charged with first-degree murder. It was a tragic end for a promising young chef, especially one who had only wanted to find a more peaceful place to live.