Pastry chef sues Fat Duck for £200k claiming repetitive tasks led to injury
A pastry chef suing Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck restaurant has claimed she was left with a crippling repetitive strain injury (RSI) from churning out thousands of chocolate playing cards and whisky wine gums, a court heard.
Sharon Anderson, 30, claims she now suffers constant wrist pain caused by carrying out repetitive and delicate tasks at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Bray, Berkshire between 2014 and 2015.
Her work included putting 400 sweets a day into small bags using tweezers and administering hundreds of tiny fingertip pinches to mushroom logs.
She is suing The Fat Duck Ltd for £200,000 damages and last week her lawyers told a judge that the "fast, arduous and repetitive" tasks meant she was effectively working on a factory floor.
"She was essentially on what was effectively a production line," her barrister, Joel Kendall, told the High Court in London.
Blumenthal's company denies liability, claiming the work she did was routine for a pastry chef in a fine dining restaurant and that she was given sufficient breaks.
Anderson, of Letterkenny, Co Donegal, Ireland, began as a commis chef at the restaurant in June 2014 and claims her injury was caused by being made to perform work which was "too fast, arduous and repetitive for her".
Her role included packing individually wrapped sweets into cellophane bags from 7-11am, before she switched to creating chocolate playing cards from 11.30am to around 4pm.
She had to place each sweet into its own cellophane bag using tweezers and believes she "wrapped and packed" around 400 separate sweets each day.
The chocolate playing cards were made in moulds of metal and plastic, while each mould could create 12 cards and weighed over a kilo.
Anderson would hold the mould in her left hand with her palm upturned - and her wrist extended - while ladling chocolate in with her other hand. The completed mould weighed around two kilos, it is claimed, and Anderson aimed to produce around 180 cards per day.
"The process had to be carried out under time pressure as it had to be completed before the chocolate set in each mould," her lawyers claim in court papers.
Her kitchen shift then switched to making whisky wine gums between 4-6pm, she says, and she would produce around 550 by hand.
Anderson followed the restaurant when it moved to Melbourne, Australia, in January 2015, while the Bray premises were renovated.
From February 2015, her work followed a similar pattern to life in Bray, she claims, although she was under pressure to handle even more moulds, due to wastage caused by cards melting faster in the warmer climate.
In June 2015, she began complaining of pain in her forearm and was told by her physio that her pain was being caused by her "long hours and repetitive work".
She temporarily stopped work due to the pain, but three months later resumed work at the revamped Bray restaurant, before hanging up her apron for good in November 2015.
Her role during her final phase at the Fat Duck again involved tasks such as "hand-piping whisky wine gums" and wrapping petit fours sweets.
But she also spent a week preparing mushroom logs, requiring her to "pinch creases into 500 sugar sheets per week with her fingers", she claims.
She now suffers "significant wrist pain" even after carrying out normal manual tasks, court documents state. The injury means she has recurring problems with daily tasks such as heavy lifting, driving and - crucially - cooking.
Anderson's lawyers claim the restaurant failed to allow sufficient rest periods or support, and "required her to work under time pressure throughout the day". But the Fat Duck is denying all the claims and points out that Anderson was transferred to lighter duties after she complained about making chocolate patisserie.
The work she carried out had no known risk of triggering an "upper limb disorder", defence lawyers insist, and the techniques she practised are standard in the world of haute cuisine.
Her workload was not oppressive and Anderson was given all the support and assistance she needed, they maintain.
In court, the restaurant's barrister John Williams claimed there was a stark lack of medical evidence on Anderson's side.
He said her claim was a "unique case - given the occupational context of a pastry chef undertaking these kinds of tasks alleging an upper limb disorder".
After a brief court hearing, judge McCloud adjourned the dispute, directing a case management conference for May 2022 ahead of a trial of her compensation claim.
The case was first reported on in 2019.