Flaming Desserts Damage More Than Just Your Waist

Kim Conte
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chef preparing bananas fosterA freak, scary accident at a restaurant in Florida over the weekend is shedding light on a topic that no one in the food industry is talking about: Flaming desserts prepared tableside are really stupid.

Here's what went down: Four people were burned when a waiter preparing Bananas Foster tableside poured too much rum over the dessert of bananas, butter, cinnamon, and sugar -- and caused a fiery explosion. As a result, one woman's dress caught on fire and her body was covered in flames. She -- along with another diner -- had to be flown to the hospital with serious burns; two other people were burned but refused treatment. The diners are recovering but, unfortunately, will take a long time to heal.

This frightening disaster will likely scare customers away from ordering items like Cherries Jubilee, Crepes Suzette, Steak Diane, Saganaki (flaming cheese), or other dishes that are needlessly set ablaze at restaurants just for show. And you know what? That's a good thing.

Don't get me wrong -- I love flambe desserts and other dishes, and enjoy how the alcohol that's burned off really enhances the flavor. I simply prefer such things to be prepared far, far away in the kitchen instead of right next to me (and my eyebrows) at the table.

I've had time to reflect on this topic ever since an unfortunate incident in a restaurant years ago involving myself and one stubborn Baked Alaska (a dessert made of ice cream and sponge cake completely sheathed in meringue). The waiter set the meringue on fire but was unable to put out the flames. He ran away in fear, leaving my dining companion and me with no choice but to fight the fire (successfully!) with nothing but our water glasses. Thankfully, no one was hurt (and the dessert was comped), but obviously the damage was done.

So, yes, I have a secret fear of tableside flaming desserts. But that doesn't mean they are any less unnecessary. The only reason restaurants do the tableside fire shenanigans is for the show, but I don't really think flames are that exciting. If I want special effects, then I'll go to a movie. Also, I pay to go out to a restaurant because I don't want to prepare the meal myself. Why would I want to watch someone do just that next to me? Good restaurants get what I'm talking about -- everyone else better have the fire extinguisher on the ready.

Hopefully, after the tragic accident in Florida, more restaurants will come around to realizing that when it comes to flaming desserts, they just aren't worth the risk.

Do you like flaming dishes prepared tableside?


Image via Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Flickr

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