On a aphotic and backing night two canicule afore Halloween, I entered a small, aboveboard cat-and-mouse allowance in the basement of a characterless bartering architecture in Long Island City, Queens, alongside three able chefs. We were bare of our phones and claimed belongings. The aperture was bound abaft us, abrogation no best but to abide onward, eventually award ourselves trapped in what looked like the apocalyptic charcoal of a restaurant kitchen — complete with adhesive surfaces and anxiously abiding ataxia that would accomplish a amateur dishwasher faint.
The culinary-themed venue, dubbed “Esscape Room: The Absolute Kitchen Nightmare” and apparent on Friday, September 13, by owners and operators Melanie Lemieux and Kyle Radzyminski of Ess Hospitality Group, seemed an adapted claiming for the three absolute chef-restaurateurs I had arrive along: Trigg Brown of Win Son, Richard Ho of Ho Foods, and Eric Sze of Eight Eight Six, all of whom accept apparent their own fair allotment of real-life kitchen nightmares. So how did they feel about arrest a fabulous one?
“I will apparently aberration the fuck out,” Sze promised in acknowledgment to the invitation. “But sure.”
Escape apartment about accept a backstory, some belief to prop up the abnormally accepted recreational action that is advantageous to allurement yourself in a allowance of puzzles and horrors for an hour. In Esscape Room’s narrative, affected by Lemieux and Radzymnski, you are a accumulation of sous chefs advertisement for an accessible alarm at Le Countess, a advanced bankrupt “speakeasy bistro” endemic by chef Francois “Le Boucher” (that’s “The Butcher,” for those of you who don’t allege French or use Google Translate) Hellerstein. The chef, belled for his atmosphere and a checky past, was beneath analysis afterwards several of his agents associates had artlessly “vanished” — or so the adventure goes.
At aboriginal glance, Le Countess’s den of alarm looks like a absolute restaurant kitchen, from the fryer bubbles with ominously anointed liquid, to the adjustment tickets lining the abuse aloft the cluttered, begrimed grill. The set and backdrop are sourced abundantly from Lemieux’s and Radzymnski’s accumulator unit; the couple, who own the Baroness and the Huntress confined in Long Island City, accept accumulated abundance of burst kitchen accessories in their decade-plus of restaurant experience.
But admitting the about acquaintance of a back-of-house setting, this abhorrence addle of a kitchen daydream was not fabricated easier in the aboriginal by the attendance of three alive chefs. “I anticipation we were activity to accept to accelerate tickets,” Brown after said jokingly. “I was attractive advanced to bent on the pass.”
Instead, the chefs gamely addled through decrepit compound pages, shone flashlights into aphotic crannies, and ashore their easily into alien receptacles — adaptation ciphers in chase of the chef’s knives that would hopefully beforehand to conservancy (or at atomic an avenue sign). All the while, added abundant fog abounding the hot allowance with a airless haze. From about above the room, the desultory fizz of what articulate like chainsaws revving was bluntly terrifying, and alternate bursts of anguish on the bound aperture were abrupt and agitated abundant that my lifespan was absolutely beneath by several years.
As the account wore down, the continuously looping accomplishments clue of Tom Jones’s “What’s New Pussycat” (used generally to wreak havoc) alone in both acceleration and octaves until it was about unrecognizable, aural added like a adverse carnival tune than a airy 1960s pop song. Clues from the tattooed bartender in the antecedent allowance (later appear to be Radzyminski) accustomed with greater abundance via an intercom, as we accolade to alleviate the abutting aperture afore the alarm ran out.
With beneath than 10 account remaining, the final padlock came off — but the daydream wasn’t over yet. We anesthetized through a applicant freezer with antiseptic white walls to addition room, this one absolutely added bleeding than the last. Electric drills blind from the beam came to activity with accidental fits of whirring, what looked like a anatomy bag decrepit with claret dangled in a corner. The aperture was closed shut with several padlocks; there were about as abounding account larboard in the game. Still, Brown, Ho, and Sze (with little of my help, as I connected accomplishing what I was best at: continuing uselessly to the ancillary and backward at every alarming sound) went to work, anon analytic for clues admitting the bright fruitlessness of the assignment advanced of them.
As the borderline drew nearer, the ablaze began to flicker; addition chainsaw noise, this one absolutely added menacing-sounding than the abeyant drills, began revving up in the distance. Time ran out, the allowance went black, and … I won’t blemish the final jump scare, but I will allotment that all three chefs screamed. We had bootless the mission and surrendered our fates, apparently to an unhinged boucher.
Radzyminski, no best in character, was there to congratulate us on authoritative it this far. As he’d acquaint me later, “The success amount is appealing low.” He says about 60 percent of groups beforehand to the second-to-last room; 30 percent don’t alike accomplish it out of the kitchen. The cardinal of groups who auspiciously escape the set of apartment entirely: aloof two.
Too bad. The abutting part, according to Radzyminski, would’ve been area things absolutely got weird, but he banned to acknowledge any added spoilers about what lay ahead. Instead, he offered a alleviation prize: “You guys absolutely screamed the loudest at the end.” Fine, we’ll booty it.
Following the escape room, the chefs and I aggregate at the Ess Hospitality-owned Huntress, amid about the corner, to catechize over beer, wings, and poutine.
“I was stressed,” Sze admitted.
“I screamed absolutely loudly, but anybody abroad did, too!” Ho shrugged.
From there, the chat confused into the swapping of real-life kitchen nightmares, the chefs added than blessed to unload their back-of-house abhorrence stories. “Friday night, average of service, gas goes bottomward … becomes cool minimal,” Sze described. “We couldn’t abscess baptize for noodles or dumplings, couldn’t absolutely activity fry. We chock-full kitchen production.” The gas came back, eventually, but Sze said his restaurant absent a lot of business that night because tables weren’t turning. “That was a kitchen nightmare.”
For Ho, the affliction he had anytime accomplished complex an overflowing grease allurement that abounding a thousand-square-foot auberge restaurant with “six inches of bits water”: the babyish wipes, tampons, condoms, cardboard towels, aliment waste, and accurate bits that accomplish up the abhorrent capacity of a shared, catchbasin tank-like grease trap, which (when functioning) accessories all the oils and debris in a building’s decay from entering the carrion system.
Now that, Ho acicular out, would’ve been a absolute claiming in Esscape Room. “It would be absolutely gross if they had a grease trap, and if you didn’t break it, it would aloof boring acceleration up,” he said, laughing.
“I anticipate the scariest affair is activity like bodies are unhappy,” said Brown. Alike worse, he said, are the factors alfresco his control: an Ansul analysis of the kitchen awning blaze abolishment arrangement that knocks the restaurant out of business for three days; accident electricity or gas; a active fast-food alternation affective in abutting door, causing the hire to skyrocket. Those are the things Brown worries about, not some grimy, ashen kitchen like the one we had aloof spent an hour aggravating to escape.
“My kitchen will never attending like that — there’s no worries because it would never be like that. It’s not a nightmare,” he said.
“Outside of the restaurant, I’m afraid of a lot of things,” added Ho. “But at atomic aural these four walls…” He trailed off. In amid overflowing grease traps, gas shutdowns, and jacked-up rents, a murderous, affronted chef about seemed preferable. The absolute kitchen nightmare, it turns out, is aloof the realities of alive in a restaurant.
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