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6 Chefs Who Died in the Line of Duty

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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
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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
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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
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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.

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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What is Duck Sauce?
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A plate of Chinese takeout with egg rolls and duck sauce
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We know that our favorite Chinese takeout is not really authentically Chinese, but more of an Americanized series of menu options very loosely derived from overseas inspiration. (Chinese citizens probably wouldn’t recognize chop suey or orange-glazed chicken, and fortune cookies are of Japanese origin.) It would also be unusual for "real" Chinese meals to be accompanied by a generous amount of sauce packets.

Here in the U.S., these condiments are a staple of Chinese takeout. But one in particular—“duck sauce”—doesn’t really offer a lot of information about itself. What exactly is it that we’re pouring over our egg rolls?

Smithsonian.com conducted a sauce-related investigation and made an interesting discovery, particularly if you’re not prone to sampling Chinese takeout when traveling cross-country. On the East Coast, duck sauce is similar to sweet-and-sour sauce, only fruitier; in New England, it’s brown, chunky, and served on tables; and on the West Coast, it’s almost unheard of.

While the name can describe different sauces, associating it with duck probably stems from the fact that the popular Chinese dish Peking duck is typically served with a soybean-based sauce. When dishes began to be imported to the States, the Americanization of the food involved creating a sweeter alternative using apricots that was dubbed duck sauce. (In New England, using applesauce and molasses was more common.)

But why isn’t it easily found on the West Coast? Many sauce companies are based in New York and were in operation after Chinese food had already gained a foothold in California. Attempts to expand didn’t go well, and so Chinese food aficionados will experience slightly different tastes depending on their geography. But regardless of where they are, or whether they're using the condiment as a dipping sauce for their egg rolls or a dressing for their duck, diners can rest assured that no ducks were harmed in the making of their duck sauce.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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