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Delectable, Dangerous Flambes

Sandwich Bill CapHere’s a quick recap of the news: Last June 11, Saturday, four customers of the Ozona Blue Restaurant in Palm Harbor, Florida were burned when a waiter was preparing flaming banana fosters dessert in a nearby table.  Investigation showed that the waiter failed to follow the right procedures in preparing the flambe, which caused flames to shoot out to the next table where five diners were seated.  Four of those were hurt in the accident, with one of them suffering severe third degree burns.

The incident instigated a lot of differing views about flaming desserts.  Many people think that what happened is freaky and terrifying, and will surely dissuade customers from ordering their usual favorites — Cherries Jubilee, Crepes Suzette, Steak Diane and Saganaki.  Others simply say you just have to be safe.  Customers ought to stay away from the table, and restaurant managers just have to make sure that waiters know what they are doing.

History of flambé. The practice of flaming meals in restaurants is mainly done for show, as it sets up a striking, thrilling visual presentation for diners.  Another reason, of course is flavor, although a lot say that this can be done in the safer confines of a kitchen. As alcohol is poured to a sizzling pan to create a torrent of flames, the burning alcohol immensely enhances the flavor of the food.  Flambeing was started by the Moors in the 14th century, but only gained popularity in the latter part of the 19th century.   A waiter wearing a server hat in Monte Carlo named Henri Carpentier accidentally set aflame a saucepan of crepes that he was cooking for the king.  He found out that burning up the sauce delectably enhanced its flavor.

The right ways to flambé.
No, we do not intend to expound on the actual process of making flaming desserts and meals, but instead wish to highlight the crucial steps in the process. Such steps are necessary in ensuring the success — with careful emphasis on success, not accidents– of your flambéing.

•    Liquors with high alcohol content are ideal for this cooking process– meaning not all types of liquor can be used to flame the food.  The most recommended type is brandy, cognac or rum, while beer, champagne and wines do not work.

•    Liquor with a higher proof ignites the food more quickly.  The most ideal to use are those that are 80-proof – anything higher than that, most especially those beyond 120-proof are exceedingly flammable and are therefore quite dangerous.

•    The liquor should be heated up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit or 54 degrees Celsius before being added to the pan.  Be careful not to bring it to a boiling point, though, as boiling will burn off the alcohol, and will obstruct it from catching fire.

•    Make sure to take away the pan from the source of heat before you add the liquor in order not to burn yourself.

•    The alcohol is supposed to extinguish the fire after a while.  Briskly shaking the sizzling pan usually puts-off the flame, but just to be sure, keep a large metal pot lid nearby in case the flames won’t extinguish by itself.

•    Needless to say, the guests’ tables should be far from the preparation of the flambé.

Will the recent Florida incident affect the people’s craving and preference for flambé?  I don’t think so.  And it shouldn’t. What happened serves as a lesson to everyone–just a way of keeping us on our toes, reminding us to be more careful next time.