6 Chefs Who Died in the Line of Duty

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iStock

Achieving fame as a chef requires dedication—even obsession—and the pursuit of fine cuisine can occasionally be dangerous. Whether sickened by poor ventilation, surprised by a snake, or caught up in political intrigues, the following chefs are known to have died for their cause.

1. RICHARD ROOSE (DIED 1531)

An engraving of St. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, circa 1520
St. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, circa 1520
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Chef Richard Roose was in charge of preparing the daily gruel for his master John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. But in February 1531, he was accused of adding poison to the porridge. The bishop was spared because he had no appetite that day, but the poisoned gruel killed two and sickened several members of the bishop’s family. The crime was considered so heinous that Parliament passed the 1531 “Acte for Poysoning,” which made it high treason to poison anyone—and declared that the punishment for the crime was being boiled to death.

Roose maintained his innocence, saying he merely added laxatives to the gruel as a prank and had no idea where any poison came from. And the cook may have been framed: Rumor had it that Henry VIII arranged for Fisher’s poisoning because the bishop criticized the king’s decision to divorce his first queen. Innocent or guilty, Roose met his gruesome fate in a large cauldron.

2. FRANCOIS VATEL (DIED 1671)

Francois Vatel was a very conscientious cook, performing his kitchen skills with such dedication that he was employed by the households of Nicolas Fouquet—France’s Superintendent of Finances—and then French Prince Louis II de Bourbon Conde. During his tenure with Fouquet, he is said to have created the dish Creme Chantilly for a banquet.

He was ordered to prepare a lavish feast for King Louis XIV in 1617, but suffered greatly under the strain of such a command performance. When a delivery of fish did not arrive on time, Valet was so stressed out that he stabbed himself. Shortly after his body was discovered, the fish arrived.

3. MARIE ANTOINE CAREME (DIED 1833)

Some of Marie Antoine Careme’s confections
Some of Careme’s confections
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Although he became a master of grand cuisine, Careme’s childhood was one of neglect and poverty. Abandoned by his parents at an early age, he began as a kitchen boy and worked hard, becoming one of the first internationally known celebrity chefs. At the height of his career in the early 1800s, he was famous for creating towering confections of sugar, marzipan, and flour. He’s credited with conceiving recipes for nougats, meringues, and croquantes (a type of crisp cake), as well as vol au vents (hollow puff pastry delights), and he wrote several cookbooks. His dishes delighted Napoleon, Talleyrand, George IV, and Tsar of Russia Alexander I, but they came at a high price. He died before the age of 50—diagnosed with intestinal tuberculosis, but doctors also suspected carbon monoxide poisoning from years of working in kitchens with no ventilation.

4. CHARLES PROCTOR (DIED 1912)

The Titanic at the docks
The Titanic at the docks
Wikimedia // Public Domain

The 10-course dinner that Charles Proctor served on April 14, 1912 is remembered as one of the more notable meals of the 20th century. It was the last meal the chef prepared, and the last first-class dinner on the Titanic. Proctor served his meal—featuring oysters, filet mignon, lamb with mint sauce, and roasted squab—to the ocean liner’s first-class passengers just hours before the ship collided with an iceberg. Proctor and his staff were closing up the kitchen during the crash and went down with the ship. Only one baker survived.

5. LIU JUN (DIED 2012)

A death cap mushroom
A death cap mushroom
iStock

As in many other cuisines, fresh ingredients are essential in the best Chinese restaurants, and chef Liu Jun always sought the freshest, most flavorful ingredients. In 2012, he wanted to prepare a special New Year's Eve meal for colleagues at the restaurant in Canberra, Australia, where he worked, so he went mushroom hunting. Unfortunately, the mushrooms he collected were not the edible variety, but rather deadly death cap mushrooms, and Jun and his kitchen hand died after consuming the mushroom stir fry.

6. PENG FAN (DIED 2014)

A spitting cobra
iStock

Peng Fan was another chef who misjudged his ingredients. He was mistakenly convinced that his primary ingredient—a decapitated spitting cobra—was harmless. Fan came from the Chinese province of Guangdong, where snakes are commonly served up in soup and used in medicine. Peng did what any cook accustomed to snakes would do: He chopped off the cobra’s head. Decapitation usually kills most living things, but apparently does not stop a cobra from lethally biting someone. Twenty minutes later, when Fan tried to throw the serpent's severed head into the waste bin, it bit him. Peng died before he could get any anti-venom.

BONUS: DANIEL OTT (DIED 1865)

An 1883 painting of Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria, 1883
Wikimedia // Public Domain

The name of Daniel Ott is now lost to obscurity, but Queen Victoria grieved his loss and his death made the headlines. The 38-year-old chef, who had formerly worked for a German prince, was hired temporarily by Queen Victoria in 1865. He never got to dazzle her with his culinary skills, however, because the night he went out to celebrate his royal promotion with Prince Alfred’s groom, they became entangled in a fight between students with opposing political views. When a bystander remarked that the men worked for the British crown, the fight quickly broke up. But it was too late for Ott, whose injuries proved to be fatal only a few days later. When the Queen heard the news, she made her feelings known in a letter to a Prussian official, noting that she grieved at Ott’s passing and sought justice in finding his killers. She did, however, quickly hire another chef.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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The Long, Fascinating History of Chocolate

Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain

Walk into just about any grocery or convenience store today and you're sure to find row upon row of chocolate in every imaginable form. While we have come to associate this sweet treat with companies like Hershey, chocolate has been a delicacy for centuries.

All chocolate comes from the cacao tree, which is native to the Americas, but is now grown around the world. Inside the tree’s fruits, or pods, you’ll find the cacao beans, which—once roasted and fermented—give chocolate its signature rich and complex flavor. While we don't know who first decided to turn cacao beans into chocolate, we certainly owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

In this episode of Food History, we're digging into the history of chocolate—from its origins to the chocolate-fueled feud between J.S. Fry & Sons and Cadbury and much, much more. You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!