Irish chef sues Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant for €235,000 over RSI claims

Pastry chef Sharon Anderson alleges she developed RSI from tasks such as bagging sweets

An Irish pastry chef who used to work at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant has claimed she was left with crippling repetitive strain injury from placing sweets into bags using tweezers and hand-making chocolate playing cards and about 550 whisky wine gums a day, British court documents show.

Sharon Anderson, who is 30, and worked at the three-Michelin-star restaurant in the Berkshire town of Bray, just west of London, between 2014 and 2015, claims she is now plagued by constant wrist pain, and is suing for £200,000, or about €235,000, in damages.

Her work included putting 400 sweets a day into small bags using tweezers, racing against time to make chocolate playing cards before the chocolate set too hard, and administering hundreds of tiny fingertip pinches to mushroom logs, according to court documents.

Last week her lawyers told a high court judge that the “fast, arduous and repetitive” tasks meant she was effectively working on a factory floor as she made the concoctions dreamed up for the celebrity chef’s kitchen. “She was essentially on what was effectively a production line,” her barrister, Joel Kendall, said.

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The 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. Lawyers acting on behalf of the restaurant claim there was a stark lack of medical evidence provided by Anderson.

Anderson, who is from Co Donegal, claims her injury was caused by being made to perform work that was "too fast, arduous and repetitive for her".

In court documents, she states that her role included wrapping and packing about 400 individual sweets into cellophane bags from 7am until 11am, before she switched to creating chocolate playing cards from 11.30am to about 4pm.

The chocolate playing cards were made in moulds of metal and plastic, while each mould could create 12 cards and weighed more than 1kg. The completed mould weighed about 2kg, it is claimed, and Anderson aimed to produce about 180 cards a 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.

Anderson went with 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.

Her kitchen shift then switched to making whisky wine gums between 4pm and 6pm, she says, and she would produce about 550 by hand. 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, her lawyers said. They claim the restaurant failed to allow sufficient rest periods or support, and “required her to work under time pressure throughout the day”.

After a brief court hearing, Judge Victoria McCloud adjourned the dispute, directing a case-management conference for May 2022 ahead of a trial of her compensation claim. – Guardian