Matt Preston :
Reveals his ultimate kitchen pranks
IT all started with the BBC’s highly respected current affair show Panorama doing an in-depth report on the failing spaghetti harvest in Italy, complete with Italian farmers picking spaghetti off spaghetti trees. Since that hoax report on April 1, 1957, food pranks have become so much part and parcel of April Fools’ Day that it might as well be renamed April Food’s Day.
We’ve seen the April 1 announcement of the prettily hued ‘bluenana’, claimed to be the result of crossing a blueberry bush with a banana tree; the launch of ecologically responsible ‘eagle-caught salmon’; and the world’s first six-legged lamb, to reduce the cost of Sunday roasts.
As prank-hungry social media has boomed, we’ve seen companies put out April 1 posts about everything from their barbecue-flavoured gum, to a new fragrance ‘Cheetau’ that would make you smell like a cheese and bacon puff. This was a personal favourite, along with the Brooklyn barbecue restaurant that announced it would only be selling grilled tofu, which obviously caused huge uproar among their carnivorous clientele.
It seems that the bigger the company the more ingeniously ridiculous their April Fools’ innovation. Think: Domino’s unveiling its edible box made of pizza crust, or KFC’s mighty mouth expander.This fearsome mechanical device would enlarge your mouth wide enough to accept a particularly huge chicken burger.
The corporate food world doesn’t hold the monopoly on pranks, in fact, there are so many in professional kitchens you could be forgiven for thinking every day is April Fools’ Day. The most vicious tend to be perpetrated by chefs on chefs and often push the line – especially when the chef who drinks the chilli-spiked drink is allergic to chillies, or the cayenne pepper dusting their work pants results in hospitalisation. Chilli is an obvious choice for chef pranks. There’s wiping a super-hot habanero over the rim of a rival chef’s coffee mug, or sneakily filling the straw in a drink with hot sauce. Slightly less brutal is asking them to mop the freezer floor, and far funnier is freezing in a block of ice the knives of a young apprentice who has foolishly left them lying around, battering and deep-frying their kitchen tongs, or placing a couple of raw eggs among the 200 hard-boiled eggs that are awaiting peeling.
Given the long-running rivalry between chefs and floor staff, a fair number of the most infamous kitchen pranks are committed against waiters. There is much joy in hiding a metal skewer in that baguette they are about to slice, or waiting for them to cut up a baguette that you’ve appropriated with a flour-filled balloon bomb.
Chefs also find a special pleasure in watching waitstaff do impossible tasks like draining all the water from the plumbed-in coffee machine. It’s so much more creative than asking the new apprentice to visit all the neighbouring restaurants, asking if they have a spare can of steam they can borrow for the coffee machine.
Chefs also take particular umbrage with floors taff who snack on food they have prepared for service. That’s why chefs have learned to leave boobytrapped punishments on the pass for transgressing waiters; whether that be
“WE’VE SEEN THE WORLD’S FIRST SIX-LEGGED LAMB, TO REDUCE THE COST OF SUNDAY ROASTS”
Oreos refilled with toothpaste, chocolate mousse spiked generously with Worcestershire sauce, choc covered quail eggs that look like chocolate truffles, and little bowls of crème brûlée made from toffee-topped mayonnaise – yuck. All are distinctly unpleasant surprises designed to make waiters think twice about helping themselves. A more menacing revenge is serving a recalcitrant waiter a battered dish rag as a schnitzel (or cut so it resembles onion rings) at staff dinner when everyone else at the table is getting the real thing.
Not that front-of-house staff is defenceless; there are tales of disgruntled waiters slipping dry ice into the dishwasher, or loading the kitchen air conditioning vents with flour. This is a revenge that just sits there waiting for the first hot service of summer. Sneakier are tricks like swapping out chef’s XL plastic gloves for small-sized ones, so you can watch a particularly unpleasant chef struggle during the pressure of service, or just swapping the combination lock on their locker with an identical one with a different combination.
Of course, none of these pranks equal the best prank I have witnessed at the beautiful, candlelit table of a luxe safari camp.The chef had made one of the campers a glorious and huge glazed chocolate cake decorated with all manner of candles, whipped cream and sprinkles.The birthday boy went through all the usual rituals, proudly blowing out the candles, only to find, when he cut into it, that the cake was actually just a large, chocolate-covered elephant ‘road apple’ (dung). The surprise, and the contrast of the low-brow gag with the impeccably swank surroundings, resulted in much hilarity.
“THERE IS MUCH JOY IN HIDING A METAL SKEWER IN THAT BAGUETTE THEY ARE ABOUT TO SLICE”