A pastry chef is suing Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant for more than £200,000 after claiming repetitive, delicate tasks, such as creating thousands of chocolate playing cards, left her with a crippling repetitive strain injury (RSI).
Sharon Anderson, 28, joined Heston Blumenthal’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, as a commis chef in June 2014. She has said her tasks within a day included putting 400 sweets into small bags using tweezers, making chocolate playing cards and administering hundreds of tiny fingertip pinches to mushroom logs.
The chef has accused the restaurant of negligence, claiming the work was "too fast, arduous and repetitive for her". She has said that the RSI led to her becoming depressed and anxious. The pastry chef has been unable to work since leaving the Fat Duck in November 2015.
The restaurant has denied any fault and said the type of work she did is common to the sort of pâtisserie practised in other "fine dining restaurants".
Documents lodged with London's High Court by Anderson’s lawyers state that her role included packing about 400 individually wrapped sweets into cellophane bags using tweezers from 7-11am, before she switched to creating about 180 chocolate playing cards from 11.30am to about 4pm.
The chocolate playing cards were made in moulds that could create 12 cards and weighed more than a kilo when empty and two kilos when full.
Her kitchen shift then switched to making whisky wine gums between 4-6pm, she said, and she would produce about 550 in a day.
Anderson travelled to Australia with the restaurant while it was revamped in 2015, returning later the same year.
In June 2015, she had began complaining of pain in her forearm. Her barrister, Charles Robertshaw, said in court papers: "By 23 June 2015, the pain had become significant and, on this date, she visited a physiotherapist, who advised her that the pain was being caused by her long hours and repetitive work."
She temporarily stopped work due to the pain, but three months later returned to the restaurant, before hanging up her apron for good in November 2015.
Medics pinpointed a torn ligament in Anderson’s left wrist and said that she suffers “significant wrist pain” after carrying out normal, manual tasks, although most forearm pain has since resolved.
Lawyers for Anderson, of Glentidally, Milford, Letterkenny, Co Donegal, say the restaurant failed to allow sufficient rest periods or support and “required her to work under time pressure throughout the day”.
The Fat Duck says Anderson was transferred to lighter duties after she complained about making chocolate pâtisserie.
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.
The case will return to court next year.