| Chefs |

Taste America: Mendin, Van Aken, Rapicavoli, Susser, and Others Describe Worst Cooking Moments

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Every chef has to start somewhere, and given that those who've reached celeb status have often spent absurd amounts of time in front of a hot stove -- it's no surprise they've had more than a few miserable moments in the kitchen. Add to it the pressure of serving event guests, and the biggest recipe brewing is often disaster.

Ahead of next week's prestigious Taste America event -- a culinary cornucopia put on by the James Beard Foundation -- we spoke to participating chefs to get the skinny on some of their worst event moments. Find out the dirty details after the jump.

See also: James Beard Foundation's Taste America: Tickets On Sale Now

Chef Jose Mendin

"In 1998, my first year in Miami, I volunteered for the Taste of the Nations with Johnson & Wales University. I was assigned to Douglas Rodriguez. He was serving bite-sized arepas, and I was working the griddle. I kept burning them. Let's just say I didn't make a good first impression. I'll never forget how embarrassed I was."

Chef Norman Van Aken

"Having six cases of our carefully prepared, packed, and air-shipped food not arrive at an event we were doing in a very nice resort in time for a 'press luncheon' only to find that somehow it was delivered -- but to our hotel room instead of the kitchen. But by the time this was discovered, the writers were long gone!"

Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli

"My worst event story is from way back when I was just a college-aged kid. My current co-chef/owner Henry Hane and I were trying to start our first business together. We thought we knew how to cater, and we did this guy's birthday party. When we got there, we realized they expected us to cook for 100 people on a little piece-of-shit Weber grill. Let it be said lots of medium-rare chicken went out that night. We were mortified (and humbled)."

Chef Lorena Garcia

"The worst moment was when I was an intern cooking in a banquet. We were in such a hurry serving 600 people that I forgot to use oven mitts and took out hot trays from the oven with my bare hands."

Chef Allen Susser

"My very first dinner I was invited to cook at the Beard house was one of the most interesting ever. The James Beard Awards had not even been established, and the organization was just starting to understand who they were and just what their role would become. The house, an old brownstone, is located in the West Village. It had been kept in the original condition that Mr. Beard had left it. I wanted to make an impression on my guests by bringing in fresh local Florida seafood. I thought pompano would be a great choice.

"As I was planning for the dinner, I had inquired about the kitchen equipment. At Chef Allen's, I had installed a wood-burning grill and thought I would cook the fish as I do in Miami. My handlers at the Beard house said that Mr. Beard did not like gas and had only electric stoves in the kitchen. This was a little surprising, and so I went on to inquire if he had a grill in the house. A few days later -- yes, there was a grill out back in the backyard of the brownstone, and I would be able to grill my fish there. OK, I was set. I would grill my pompano with tarragon, black peppercorns, cumin seed, and EXVO.

"I get to NYC, supplies in hand to cook for 80 guests. After all, the rules of the house are that we have to bring all of our ingredients in on the day of the event. I was so engaged in the food and the details, I went through the day without checking on the grill. Late in the afternoon, I realized it would be time to fire up the grill. I went out back ready to go, but I could not find the grill. I went back out, and lo and behold, the grill was there -- a hibachi grill! One little hibachi to cook all of the pompano. I had no choice and was out of time. Fire up the hibachi and one by one grill each fillet. What should have taken about 30 minutes ended up taking two hours. Guests were arriving and we were still at the hibachi grilling the pompano. They thought it was a great show. After all, each of the guests must walk through the kitchen to get to the dining area and so why not be 'grilling' in the backyard too?

"My first dinner for the James Beard Foundation taught me to be prepared and helped them to realize that they needed to upgrade Jim's kitchen to allow world-class chefs to come to NYC to cook for discerning foodies."

The fun begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, September 20, at the Ancient Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach. First up is a VIP cocktail reception, followed by the main attraction: a five-course dinner prepared by culinary masters (see above). Tickets are available online. It's $200 for a general ticket to the Culinary Masters' Dinner and an extra $50 for a VIP ticket (which also includes the cocktail reception).

Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahalexs.

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