Cafe Society

The dangers of working with liquid nitrogen

Germany is now short one chef and the science of molecular gastronomy has claimed another victim. This, from the Daily Telegraph:

"The 24-year-old chef was experimenting with a recipe involving liquid nitrogen, which is used by chefs including Heston Blumenthal to freeze food, when there was suddenly an 'enormous explosion.'"

Said "enormous explosion" apparently blew one of the guy's hands completely off and so damaged the other that it had to be amputated once he got to the hospital. The chef (24-year-old Martin Enger) was in critical condition and on life support when the Telegraph story hit the stands.

And while I certainly don't want to make light of this accident, I do have to say one thing: According to reports, Enger was messing with liquid nitrogen in his girlfriend's mother's kitchen.

Which means not in a professional kitchen. Not under the (ostensible) supervision of a boss or exec who might've known what he was doing and how to handle the chemical. This stuff is dangerous enough under laboratory conditions. Giving it to chefs in the first place is just asking for trouble (because, really, it's just hard to resist the practical jokes when in possession of a dewar of something capable of freezing someone's weiner solid), and I'm always surprised when I go a day without hearing about someone either blowing themselves up or freezing something off with it. But to be hauling the stuff around and bringing it into a home kitchen?  That's just incredibly unwise on many different levels. 

And I know because I got to play with the stuff while hanging out with Ian Kleinman (the supposed expert who would be keeping me from hurting myself or those around me) in his kitchen last year, and even I knew that letting me screw around with something so dangerous was probably a really bad idea.

It didn't stop me, of course.  But I did know it was a bad idea.

For the full report (and a description of the excuse used by the chef when the police showed up to investigate the explosion), check out the entire Telegraph story here.