Some people cannot cook. They burn breakfast so bad that you lose your lunch preemptively. When they cook dinner, you can only think of dessert-ing. Even the Rats Won't Touch It. Sometimes, if you're lucky, they can cook something that can be charitably described as "food."
Sometimes their food merely tastes bad. However, it has also been known to cause nausea, vomiting, or hospitalization. If you're particularly unlucky, it can cause, well, just about anything. If dinner eats you, you're probably in a lethal chef's kitchen.
At worst, if a dish looks abominable beyond comprehension, it may be censored for the sake of the audience.
As you may have guessed, this is usually a comedy trope. In eastern media, most examples are female (emphasizing that they fail at an aspect of traditional femininity, or femininity in general, or that they're something of an Action Girl), but there are a ton of male examples in western media, probably tying in to the assumption that Men Can't Keep House and Dads Can't Cook.
There are a number of common variants. Sometimes someone is forced to stomach the lethal chef's food to avoid hurting their feelings. Sometimes they refuse to admit that they can't cook, despite mountains of evidence. And sometimes, if you're particularly lucky, their food merely looks bad, and tastes perfectly fine.
Lethal Chefs may be employees of a Lethal Eatery, and quite often can be found fixing up a stew of Mystery Meat. Most Camp Cooks fit this category. (Truth in Television for them, as their budgets and ingredients are limited.)
Compare the Cordon Bleugh Chef, who can cook just fine, but often gets too creative, the One-Note Cook, who can ace one dish, but otherwise falls into this trope, and the Evil Chef, who makes meals like this on purpose just to see you suffer. See also Lethally Stupid when the character is so dumb that it would be dangerous to let him cook. Contrast the Supreme Chef, who is the exact opposite of this trope, the Angry Chef, who has nothing but contempt for his customers and peers (and will probably reserve his nastiest profanities for chefs like this), and the Chef of Iron, who can be either bad or good, but is lethal outside of their cooking. Not to be confused with actual homicide by cooking, which is Cooked to Death.
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- Western Animation
- Real Life
- In a commercial for Pokémon cereal, a mom attempts to cook her kids breakfast based on Pokémon characters. Unfortunately, in the process of doing so, she ended up burning the food.
- In Flower Fairy, An'an's father is so bad at cooking that anyone who eats his food waterfall pukes on the spot. An'an knows this all too well and actively avoids eating her father's food at any opportunity.
- In Happy Heroes, Sweet S. is shown on multiple occasions to be absolutely terrible at cooking, to the point where it's been said that her cooking is essentially a biological weapon. The other heroes and Doctor H. do everything in their power to keep themselves from having to eat dinner whenever Sweet S. prepares it.
- Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf:
- Wolnie seems to be competent at making fried rice. This can't be said for everything else as she's a horrible cook.
- In Episode 426, Jonie is shown to be a terrible cook, with the food she makes for the other goats causing even Paddi, who is Obsessed with Food and a Big Eater, to stumble on the floor.
- Cookie from Atlantis: The Lost Empire. In one scene, some of his food gets thrown into the fire, and it explodes into a small mushroom cloud. He's also horrified by a lettuce.
Helga: It's a vegetable, Cookie. The men need their four basic food groups.
Cookie: I got your four basic food groups: beans, bacon, whiskey and lard!
- In Despicable Me 3, the girls make soup for Gru made from gummi bears and beef. (Justified, of course, as they're kids.) The look on Gru's face confirms he's only eating it to make them happy.
- How to Train Your Dragon:
- Astrid in the Christmas Episode Gift of the Night Fury. Her idea of Yak Nog will probably not last as a Snoggletog tradition.
- How to Train Your Dragon 2 reveals that Haddock men have a habit of falling for Lethal Chefs, as Stoick points out that he didn't marry Valka for her cooking.
Gobber: I hope not! Her meatballs could kill more beasts than a battle axe.
- In The Last Unicorn Cully's gang laments about Molly's cooking.
"For the third night!"
"At least you could have used a different rat!"
- In Ratatouille, Linguini, before meeting Remy, makes a soup so bad that when he tastes it he pukes and Remy nearly does too when he sniffs it. Yes. His food is so bad that not even the rats will eat it. (Though granted, the rat in question has the culinary inclinations of a master chef, but rats don't have a gag reflex!!)
- The standard food at the salvage yard cafeteria in Titan A.E. may be appetizing to the cockroach-like alien that cooks it, but he has no interest in catering to a human palate, serving feces and live "sushi" without ketchup.
Cale: I'd just like them to kill my food before they serve it to me. I do an honest day's work, I want already-dead food.
- An ancient Chinese story tells of a comatose general being saved from hunger by two beggars. The dish in itself was terrible (consisting of trampled spinach, rotten beancurd, and non-potable water), but he didn't notice because he was semi-conscious, instead thinking it delicious. When he became emperor, he ordered said beggars to present said meal to his ministers. Afraid to lose face, they all gulped it down. The Emperor, realizing how horrible the dish was, still drank it all. The two beggars ended up rich.
- Spike Jones' "Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy" is told by a Tennessee mountaineer whose wife is one. At least when it comes to her biscuits.
- "Miss Fogarty's Christmas cake." from the song of the same name, was apparently bad enough to hospitalize a number of fully grown men with everything from stomach ailments to a full-blown dissociative fugue.
- In the Yiddish-language song "Hopf! meine homentashn" ("Hop, my Purim cookies!") the hapless protagonist of the song makes homentashn which are "halb roi, halb farbrente" (half raw, half burnt).
- An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer:
- The mess sergeant from "It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier":
Our old mess sergeant's taste buds had been shot off in the war
But his savory collations add to our espirit de corps
To think of all the marvelous ways
They're using plastics nowadays
It makes a fellow proud to be a soldier.
- In "She's My Girl", this is one of the girl's shortcomings:
So though for breakfast she makes coffee that tastes like shampoo,
I come home for dinner and get peanut butter stew,
Or if I'm in luck,
It's broiled hockey puck,
But, oh well, what the hell,
She's my girl,
And I love her.
- The mess sergeant from "It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier":
- In America's Most Haunted, Julienne Sikes, former cook of the Old Prison, is implied to be one by the epitaph on her tombstone.
- In Welcome to Night Vale episode 56 Earl Harlan, sous chef at Night Vale's newest restaurant, shares a tiramisu recipe on the community radio show that he warns is highly poisonous and will probably kill you. Another time he shares his recipe for pulled pork, which includes killing the pig, and spends a lot of time on the subject of killing the pig, before quickly rattling off a seemingly normal recipe for pulled pork.
- During the InVasion angle, Debra started baking cookies that were, judging by the reactions of people that tasted them, inedible to the point of being practically poisonous. The problem was that she was married to Steve Austin. As he was the star wrestler of the Alliance it was imperative that Austin be kept happy, and since one of his dozens of Berserk Buttons was being disrespectful to his wife, people had to pretend to like Debra's cookies. The gag where someone pretends to eat and then throws it away as soon as nobody's looking was used regularly.
- The Swedish Chef of The Muppet Show is generally a unique example of this (i.e. his cuisine is lethal to him), but he occasionally plays it straight — in one instance, he went into cordon bleugh territory and made an onion cake; in another, he provided a quite literal example.
- Ma Gorg in Fraggle Rock, it seems. In one episode, she makes Junior a peach-and-garlic pie (which is just the way he likes it, apparently) but when he tries to eat it, it's like rubber, literally. Fortunately, the pie isn't wasted; later, when the Fraggles have to sneak into the Gorg's house, they're able to do so by using it like a trampoline.
- In Cabin Pressure, Arthur consistently fails to cook edible food. At one point, he spectacularly fails at reheating frozen food. Unfortunately for everyone, he's usually the cook.
Douglas: Arthur, you're aware the point of giving us separate meals is so that we can't both get food poisoning? There's really not much point if you're just going to poison us in two different ways.
- The Goon Show: Moriarty.
Grytpype-Thynne: [sipping soup] Tell me, Moriarty...what is this foul but economical recipe?
Moriarty: It's a family secret!
Moriarty: They died after the first mouthful. It was terrible! I had to do all the washing up myself!
- In The Men from the Ministry Mr. Lamb's landlady Mrs. Bradby makes consistently terrible food. At one point Lamb describes having shepherds pie and rhubarb custard... on the same plate.
- In The Navy Lark Able Seaman "Fatso" Johnson's pies prove to be rather convincing as limpet mines, and less edible.
- Riders Radio Theater: Sidemeat's biscuits are the hardest substance known to man.
- Squee, from Magic: The Gathering. The look on Gerrard's face after eating Squee's food on the card Recycle is one of impressive shock and regret. The card Medicine Bag has even more to say on the subject:
"My medicine bag and I have treated countless wounds and illnesses. But never have I seen so many made so sick for so long. We will never eat Squee's cooking again."
- In Entropy Inc's Star Wars campaign, the title crew stole/refurbished a cooking droid. Unfortunately, everything it made tasted like bantha burger.
- This is the story behind the old Halfling Hot Pot Catapult in Warhammer. Halflings are normally Supreme Chefs, but once upon a time a team of Halfling cooks attached to an Empire army got caught up in an ambush by goblins. The plucky little cooks defended themselves with meat cleavers, but some goblin blood got in the stew, thoroughly ruining it. The head chef then snapped, dumped all the peppers and spices he had into the pot, looped ropes around the bubbling cauldron, had his team haul back on it, then fired the thing like a slingshot into the middle of the goblin horde. The resulting mixture not only scalded greenskins to death, it was strong enough to melt trolls! This ended up saving the day, and in subsequent campaigns, many halfling cooks have contributed during battles with their own attempts at weaponized stew, though even the original chef never could quite remember what he put into that first batch.
- In Les Misérables, Thenardier uses horse kidneys and cat's livers to make the food he serves.
- The entire plot of Nunsense is set into motion in the aftermath of Sister Julia, Child of God, having killed all but five of the Little Sisters of Hoboken with a tainted batch of vichyssoise soup.
- In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, we first meet Mrs. Lovett while she's telling Sweeney (and us) how awful her meat pies are ("The Worst Pies in London"). The song "God, That's Good!" subverts this trope, as it suggests that Mrs. Lovett is actually a pretty good cook, she just needs to buy high-quality ingredients (such as with the money taken from Pirelli's corpse).
- I Love Bees (a Halo 2 ARG): Kamal is a male example. He microwaves a whole raw chicken, cuts it up in exactly equal slices, and in place of Worcestershire sauce and butter uses ketchup and butter-flavored popcorn oil.
- Killerbunnies: Gunhilde, otherwise known as "Greasestain" is one of these and, apparently, she isn't safe eating her own cooking, seeing as she uses "unconventional" ingredients and the fact she's suffering from some of the side-effects (she's balding as per her profile pic). Somehow, she got a job as a lunch lady.
- Plonqmas: Many of the stories in this series involve Plonq attempting to prepare an Indestructible Edible for his holiday meal, which are normally variants on "Christmas Dinner-in-a-Bag".
- On SB Nation, the topic Lunch Judgment (where one of the site bloggers asked what the readers ate) frequently attracted the unorthodox recipes of Spilly. The website eventually added him as frequently disgust a regular.
- SCP Foundation: SCP-666½-J is a crab-stuffed mushroom dish that was given SCP status the day after it was presented. According to the file, it tastes relatively fine, other than an odd salty flavor, but soon enough sets off what can only be called a localized apocalypse on the eater's digestive system.
- In Twitch Plays Pokémon Emerald, the Mob tried their hand at making Pokeblocks. The result were level 10-11 Pokeblocks with 19-23 feel. Higher numbers are worse, and it used to be thought that you couldn't make anything higher than a level 9 Pokeblock. To quote Twitch Plays Pokemon's own Epic Fail page: "So what we have is a previously incomprehensibly bad tasting Pokeblock that goes down worse than sandpaper embedded with razors." Then, in the Platinum run, they tried to make Poffins, which it turned out they couldn't do. Literally - they were unable to stir the mixture due to the input format and ended up burning their creations horribly.
- Let this be known, Madgie cannot make Kool-Aid . She included some rather unconventional ingredients, including diesel, kerosene, butane, propane, Red Bull, and turpentine. As you may expect, Bunny was hospitalized and was paralyzed down her left side for a week.
Bunny: Accident my ass! When I was her age, at the time, I knew what to put in some damn Kool-Aid and what she used was NOT what you put in Kool-Aid.
- In this video the chef almost poisons himself.
- "Cement pizza? Newbies, please!" This well-known O Fortuna Misheard Lyrics video fits, if accidentally (it has even a deadly cake at the end).
- The few times Ashens' Chef Excellence actually attempts to do his job, he's this in spades. The film's version of the character is not actually a chef (though he sure as hell will talk you down like he's one), just the former mascot of a frozen food company made entirely of Lethal Chefs.
- Strippin has a reputation as one of these after his attempt to make protein cookies resulted in this. When he and Sparkles* try eating them, it goes very badly.
Sparkles*: That is the most horrible thing I have ever eaten!
- Most videos on the Hydraulic Press Channel and its sister channel, Beyond the Press that involve food being 'prepared' using the titular hydraulic press play this trope for laughs by not even attempting to make edible products. Between the two channels, they've squashed food flat with the press or with the host dropping his powerlifting weights on them, dropped canned food into a campfire until it explodes, shot it out of their homemade air cannon, attempted to roast it using a solar-powered 'death ray', attempted to use liquid nitrogen to brew coffee instead of water and if it's food that typically requires heat during the cooking process, they blast it with a flamethrower.
"In Hydraulic Press Kitchen, there is no time for oven." (starts up flamethrower)
- Swedish YouTube channel MonteFjanton has the series Basses Rätt i Skafferiet, where Basse acts like a cheerful middle-aged cooking show host. The recipes usually start out decent, but then he will add ingredients that nobody likes and/or don't gel well together at all... Such as a pie that was revealed to contain dried insects, or fridge-cold spaghetti bolognese with mushrooms suspended in aspic. More generally, vinegar and Colman's mustard powder always sneak their way into his recipes. He never eats the results himself,note but a selling point of the series is watching his friends and family suffer.
- Swedish YouTube channel Kilian Experience has the video "Crab Expert Prepares the Perfect Crab", wherein host Kilian reproduces the old Frankish seafood recipe Crabe al la Pebe Maximum, also known by the English name "CRAB IN PEPSI MAX!". It ended up exactly like you'd expect and according to Word of God it smelled like "dying in mud".
- The YouTube channel How to Cook That has several videos debunking ineffective and sometimes downright dangerous "food hacks" on YouTube.
- Will Mc Daniel: How to Bake a Cake for a Racist is an Invoked example of this trope. Since the cake is supposed to be going to a racist, Will instructs the viewer to toss in laxative, gravel, broken glass, and a page from The Daily Mail.