The kitchen is considered the most dangerous room in the house for good reason, and not just because of those knives. Ask any passionate cook to roll up her sleeves, and you’re likely to see burn scars on arms that touched 400-degree oven racks, palms that grabbed sizzling pots without the protection of mitts, or fingers that were splattered by hot oil.
While burns can be painful, it’s the cuts that most often lead to the ER. Knife accidents at home led to hospital visits almost 330,000 times in 2011, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a survey maintained by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In a sample of more than 8,000 of these cases, more than two-thirds of the injuries were to fingers.
As my own experience proves, hurting yourself in the kitchen isn’t just for newbies.
The pros do it, too; most any restaurant chef has a bloody tale or two to tell. Knife wounds are a running thread through most seasons of the Bravo show “Top Chef,” where the message is: Keep cooking, no matter what. When local favorite Carla Hall (now a star on ABC’s “The Chew”) momentarily took an eye off the task at hand — chopping vegetables — in the “All-Stars” season in 2010, she sliced into a fingertip but soldiered on after a medic bandaged it and she donned a plastic glove to protect the food from her blood. “I just want to finish my prep,” she told the medic. “Does it hurt? Yes. Am I about to pass out? No.”
Red, white and rue
I’m no Jacques Pepin, but my knife skills are definitely above average. I know how to curl back the fingers on one hand while I use it to guide an onion I’m chopping with a knife held in the other. I can tell you the difference between julienne and chiffonade, and can accomplish them both. But I’ve been inflicting mostly minor cuts on myself with semi-regularity ever since my knife-skills instructor told my class on that first day of cooking school that leaving your fingertips exposed to the path of a knife “is the quickest way to turn a white onion into a red onion.”
At first, it was sheer carelessness. That very same day of class, in fact, I had just finished carefully cubing beets for borscht when I lifted the (new, sharp) knife, noticed a little beet cube stuck to the blade and decided I could just quickly swipe it off with my index finger. First day, first cut: no stitches, but a 30-minute break to stop the bleeding, work on a bandage and cover the whole thing in a little finger condom to protect the food and soothe my ego, which had suffered the most damage of all.