Chef Michael Voltaggio was jumping off volcanic rocks Sunday afternoon in Kona when he was viciously attacked by one of Hawaii's most notorious sea urchins who embedded 17 needles in the chef's right leg.
Despite nearly hysterical pleas from a local woman that he be transported to the emergency room of Kona Community Hospital, Voltaggio gallantly "manned-up", shrugged off the pain, limped into a kitchen and finished dessert - oven-roasted pineapples with Haagen Daz Vanilla - for a group of friends and fellow chefs including Jonathan Waxman, Dahlia Narvaez and Nancy Silverton who were in Kona for a James Beard Celebrity Chef food event.
Voltaggio, who won the "Top Chef" competition in 2009, had been with several people including Mauna Lani Bay chef Allen Hess, Barcadi head mixologist Manny Hinojosa and champion paddler Grace Emanuel who were climbing rocks and jumping into the ocean after a leisurely lunch. Voltaggio went off by himself and was climbing to a dizzyingly height when he was attacked by the sea urchin. who is apparently known locally as "Lurch the Urch". The chef, who owns Ink on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, pulled out the 17 stickers.
"Lurch the Urch is the meanest sea urchin I have ever known," said a local man speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution "Lurch has attacked at least a dozen humans and probably 45, 50 mahi-mahi that I know of."
A woman said the sea urchin had one goal in mind when he attacked Voltaggio; homicide.
"That sea urchin wanted to kill him, so other humans will hear about it and leave sea urchins alone," said Sara Kutler, a Bel Air resident who lives in Hawaii part-time and has herself been bite by sea urchins four times. "Why else do you think the sea urchin attacked him but to kill him? It is about protecting their own species"
Kutler, who was once hospitalized for several days due to a sea urchin attack, passionately urged Voltaggio to pour human urine over the leg wound because, she said, pee was the only remedy. But, Voltaggio was adamantly against being peed on. When his girlfriend, documentarian Jamie Schribner, suggested he go outside and pee on himself, Voltaggio replied, "I'll piss on my leg when you shit on your arm." She declined the offer.
Still, the pleas continued and Voltaggio while attempting to soak the wounded leg and knee in white wine vinegar, a mysterious warm bottle of Perrier appeared and a man poured it over Voltaggio's leg.
"What is that?," said Voltaggio. "What is that? It's warm. That shit is warm. Is that piss?"
While the pouring man walked away. Voltaggio spotted Nancy Silverton seated nearby and asked her "Is it your pee, Nancy? Is it? If it is, then it's good. If it's anyone else's, then we've got a problem."
To Voltaggio's surprise, and to the delight of his friends, the wound seemed to improve after the mystery pee was applied. But, less than an hour later, the pain was back. As of early morning Monday, it was uncertain if Voltaggio would seek medical attention.
Voltaggio, who has several tattoos, listened with interest when Nancy proposed a solution to hide the marks left by the attack.
"Get a new tattoo. Get one of a sea urchin right over where he bite you."
*Note - The latest menu of Ink online does not list anything with sea urchin Expect that to change.
Before the attack, Voltaggio hanging loose, Silverton telling a photographer to fuck off.