Food & Culture

Chefs reveal the worst thing they’ve ever eaten

The dishes or ingredients they want to forget, but probably never will.

By Yvonne C Lam
We often wax lyrical about the best meal of our lives. Restaurant guide experts, including those at Gourmet Traveller, are always on the prowl for the best dining experiences in the country. Instagram feeds are devoted to money-shots of runny poached eggs, caramel sauce mid-pour, and toasted sandwiches torn apart to reveal the melted cheese strands within.
But in the same way we get a thrill from watching horror movies, there's a perverse joy to hearing about the worst food experiences one has ever had. And who else to turn to for these anecdotes than the people who cook for a living?
From enthusiastic soup experiments to the pitfalls of inventive share-house dinner parties and plenty of unusual meats in far-flung countries, these are the worst things chefs have ever eaten, and that they will never forget.
Additional reporting by Madeleine Bentley.
O Tama Carey, Lankan Filling Station, Sydney
Pig's testicles
When I was head chef at Berta, I got my friends to grow seven pigs on a farm in Forbes, and organised a big trip there for restaurant staff. We butchered two pigs there and started breaking down the meat. I remember it was a hot day and I was tasked with cleaning the pigs' intestines (which by the way, is the worst smell ever). One chef fired up the barbecue and grilled one of the pig's testicles, and popped a piece in my mouth. I'm sure in normal circumstances it would have been delicious, but combined with the heat of the day and the fact that I was elbow-deep in intestines, it was the worst thing I've ever tasted.
Ben Devlin, Pipit, Pottsville
Aloe vera
If you put aloe vera on your face, take a walk in the rain and the aloe vera runs into your mouth, it's without question one of the foulest tastes you can ever experience. It's hard to say what the taste profile was, other than it was overpoweringly bitter. Avoid.
Mike McEnearney, Kitchen by Mike, Sydney
Coca-Cola chicken
We were all in our 20s and living outside of home for the first time – so, people weren't great cooks. I don't know whether it was a '90s thing, but at this dinner party we had this chicken coated in equal quantities of apricot jam, Coke and Heinz tomato ketchup, then baked. It was phenomenally bad.
Phil Wood, Pt Leo Estate and Laura, Mornington Peninsula
Shirako (cod's sperm sac)
Shirako is a Japanese dish of cod's sperm sac, marinated in soy, and grilled. The first time I ate it was in a little sushi bar in Singapore. I bit into the shirako – it was quite a large sac – and I'm not sure I'll ever forget the overwhelmingly warm and creamy flavour. Saying it's the worst thing I've eaten is overreach. Perhaps the most puzzling thing I've had? I occasionally served shirako at [Californian restaurant] The French Laundry, but we would crumb and fry it to temper its testicular nature. On the flipside, chicken testicles are really delicious.
Phil Wood of Pt Leo Estate. Photo: Jason Loucas
Kristen Allan, cheesemaker, Sydney
Microwaved meat
When the first microwaves arrived in Australian households in the '80s, the manuals said you could roast meat in them. And when you try that, the result is this weird, brown-grey water that seeps from the meat. I remember it tasted really tough and had no flavour – apart from that unappealing boiled meat taste.
Sam Winfield, Wines of While, Perth
Rancid nut cake
It was a gluten-free nut cake for my birthday that one of my sisters baked, filled with rancid hazelnuts that were probably a year old. The taste stuck in my mouth for around two hours, and I had to wash my mouth out… with birthday wine.
Daniel Puskas, Sixpenny, Sydney
Really creamy pumpkin soup
I was about 18 or 19 at cooking school at Sutherland Tafe and we were learning about how fat is flavour. I took the lesson quite literally and went home and cooked a pumpkin soup – with about two litres of cream in it. Mum kept hovering over the stove saying, "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" but I was so sure of myself and emptied about 10 cartons of cream into the pot. It just tasted like… warm cream. It wasn't very nourishing.
Dan Puskas.
Shannon Martinez, Smith & Daughters, Melbourne
A never-ending dégustation
Look, I love dégustations – Attica, for example, makes food that is real, wholesome and delicious. But this meal I had (at a restaurant I won't name) was the epitome of everything I hate: overworked, overcomplicated, and it took hours to eat from start to finish. I remember being so drunk, because each course was just one or two bites but came with a full glass of matching wine. It was a nightmare experience, really. Give me a $14 bowl of ramen from a food court any day.
Amy Hamilton, Liberté, Albany
Durian mochi
A couple of years ago, Max Veenhuyzen (Gourmet Traveller's WA state editor) took me and my sous chef to a dim-sum restaurant. The chefs gifted us mochi filled with the most divinely textured durian mousse. I was a virgin to eating durian and thought I was going to love them – but I bit into one, and my mouth filled with an overwhelming taste of rubber tyres. I actually spat the mochi onto the street – not the most elegant reaction to a new food. Sorry, Max!
Josh Niland, Saint Peter, Sydney
Fish gall bladder
When we process fish at Fish Butchery, we count gall bladder as part of our losses – I wanted to come up with a way of cooking with it. I took the bladder and simmered it in a pot of milk to try to make a ricotta. The result was incredibly tongue-tinglingly acidic – the acid actually split the milk. That was the end of my fish gall bladder experiments.
Alanna Sapwell, Arc Dining, Brisbane
Hot vit lon (fertilised duck egg)
I was 25 and travelling in Vietnam – being a chef I was ambitious to try everything, but my limit was hot vit lon (fertilised duck egg). It wasn't all bad: the liquid was actually quite tasty, like a yolky chicken soup. But the duck embryo bit was a bit intense – all cartilage, with small feathers and bones. Even being an adventurous eater, this was mentally challenging to enjoy.
Alanna Sapwell. Photo: Pandora Photography
Jock Zonfrillo, Orana, Adelaide
Fermented grass from a cow's stomach
I love Ethiopia. And in the village I was in, it's tradition for four to five families to buy and kill a cow at Christmas. They take the fermented grass out of the cow's stomach to make a stew, and cook it into a paste – they also cut up parts of the stomach, give it a bit of a wash, and eat it raw. These are similar to Brahman cows – they have a lump, a really gristly bit of meat that's crying out for a 12-hour braise with some vegetables. But there I was, eating raw cow's stomach and lump. I've eaten a lot of nasty things in my time, and I would never want to be disrespectful to other people's culture, so I had to eat. Was it delicious? Absolutely not.
Ben Shewry, Attica, Melbourne
Wild bear
I was in a forest in Japan's Ishikawa prefecture with René Redzepi, Magnus Nilsson and two journalists, foraging for wild wasabi leaves for a Cook It Raw dinner. Two local gentlemen offered us a plate of what looked like a carpaccio of incredibly dark-red meat – they didn't speak English, and we couldn't speak Japanese so the explanation of what the dish was was lost. It didn't taste particularly amazing – it was coarse and fibrous, unseasoned, and was slightly frozen. But shortly afterwards we were told, via a translator, that we had eaten wild bear, which, according to Magnus, contains trichinosis – a parasitic disease that can cause a very painful death.
One journalist panicked and put their fingers down their throat to vomit up the meat. I didn't – I put my faith in the hunters who had given us the meat, but at the time thought, "Well, if it's my time to go, it's my time to go." Ordinarily I wouldn't eat wild bear, so this wasn't my proudest moment, but I'm alive to tell the tale.