We get these crabs from a guy called Phil Pilatos – he deals with only triple-A grade crabs in Sydney and around New South Wales. His crabs are always super angry and fresh, and they get particularly feisty when they come in. We go through them pretty quickly, so they never get lazy – they’re always quite angry.

So on a Thursday afternoon, we received a delivery of about 20 crabs in a foam box. That night, we had sold only one out of the new batch, so the lid was sort of just on. They live outside in the kitchen because they can’t live in a cool room – it’s too cold. On the Thursday night, the chefs had all gone home while I finished up around midnight. The manager comes around and does a little walkthrough, then it’s on him to lock up. He’s noticed that the lid to the crabs has gotten loose. The lights are on, he can see them and he’s like, “Oh jeepers, there’s a couple of crabs loose!”

This guy’s from Leeds, so he’s never seen mud crabs like these before – really angry and big and super aggressive – so he had no idea how to get these guys back into the box. There were three or four of the little guys hanging out, and he manages to scoop them up somehow – I think he did it with a pot lid and a wok spoon or something; he really struggled. He got the three or four of them that were hanging out back into the box and put the lid back on top. But the lid is normally taped around the outside so they can’t get out. He’s closed the lid but put no weight or anything else on top of it. There are holes all the way through the lid so they can breathe, but nothing on top.

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At six in the morning on the Friday, I get a phone call from the butcher, who’s this six-foot-tall, heavily tattooed Kiwi chap, and he’s just screaming at me. “I can’t move in the restaurant! I’m down here trying to cut meat – I can’t move anywhere, I can’t do anything, there’s fucking crabs everywhere!”

The lights are all on low, and as soon as he walked out of the lift he’s seen something scurry off into a corner. They were crawling everywhere. He says, “I can’t touch a thing downstairs, I’m going back upstairs.” So I’m like, “Fuck, alright. No worries.”

I get to work at 10am, and I’m like, “Right everybody, let’s go for a crab hunt! We need to find 19 crabs.” We sold one the night before, so we knew exactly how many we needed. Everyone’s out searching, and we’ve got about an hour and half before we need to get set up for Friday lunch. We get about 14 and they’re back in the box. It gets to lunch, and we’re like, “Fuck, we’re missing five – and they’ve gotta be around somewhere”.

So before we go into lunch service, we have a briefing. I said, “Everyone, listen. On the down low, we’re missing five mud crabs. If you see them around, can you please very discreetly let one of us know? We can go and pick them up without anyone being too worried.” It was all, “Okay, yeah. No worries.” So we kick off lunch service.

One of our more senior waiters, Jack, is wandering around, and every 20 minutes or so he comes back in with a mud crab – held up high – that he’s found somewhere in the restaurant. Basically, as he was describing the menu, the spiel at the start, he’s like “Yeah, there are specials, and a couple of things as half sizes, blah, blah, blah”, and he’s casually leaning down. He picks one crab up, puts it behind his back and says, “I’m just going to be back in one second. I’ve just got to go and grab something.” They were very, very professional, these guys. It was awesome.

So one crab was in the bar, there were two more near the front desk, and there were two more in the main dining room just hiding. Luckily it didn’t get to the stage where I had to go around to all the girls and say, “Listen, if you’re wearing open-toed shoes, just watch your toes.” They’ve got a really nasty bite, and we didn’t know if they’d managed to break their string. (They didn’t, thank god.)

They were all found in the end. The last one was found at about three o’clock in the afternoon. Yes, it was very, very stressful and everyone was freaking out quite a lot, but we managed to find them all. Some people are really good with them, and some people are not very good with dinosaurs that can crush your fingers. It was an awful lot of fun, but … I don’t want to do it again in a hurry, put it that way. And our poor restaurant manager from Leeds, I don’t think he ever recovered.

As told to Grace MacKenzie.

Spice Temple is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a month-long banquet of its most-loved dishes. The menu is $149 per person and includes lamb and fennel spring rolls, tingling white cut chicken and the standout three-milk cake. Plus, $99 mud crabs are available until the end of June. They’re sourced live, steamed to order and served with your choice of sauce: XO, ginger and shallot, or black bean and salted chilli.