So, yes, I adore cooking magazines -- my middle sister subscribed to both "Cooking Light" and "Taste of Home" for me last Christmas, which has been so much fun. I love to read about ingredients and what people are doing in their kitchens. And, of course, I have a lovely cookbook collection that makes me sigh with pleasure when I gaze upon the bookshelves.
But other than fast food restaurants when I was a teenager and a stint in a bakery about 12 years ago, I have never worked in a restaurant. I love to see the way restaurant kitchens work -- one of my favorite things we did on our Caribbean cruise was tour the ship's galley. Reading books about the inner workings of restaurants ... well, inquiring minds want to know!
I just finished "Service Included" by Phoebe Damrosch. The tag line reads "Four-star secrets of an eavesdropping waiter." This is a quick, fun read of 228 pages. While most waiters claim to be actors, performers, writers, etc., supplementing their incomes waiting tables, this author considered waiting tables to be her main profession for several years before becoming a writer.
This true story is set in Manhattan where renowned Chef Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame) was opening a new restaurant called Per Se. Damrosch also mentions The French Laundry Cookbook, calling its photos Food Porn. I think I'm going to have to take a peek at this cookbook!
She gets in on the ground floor of the opening of this new restaurant, going through months and months of training on everything from the menu, origin of ingredients, wine accompaniments, placement of silverware (called "marking" the table), where to stand or not to stand, how to reach around guests (never touch them), history of the area, you name it. The mind boggling list of information they must memorize goes on and on.
Damrosch also talks about her personal life some including dating and romance among the restaurant crew.
Here are a few excerpts ...
Steeping proved challenging as they handed out sheet upon sheet of facts: the sculptor and date of the statues visible from the window, the acreage of Central Park, the biography of the private dining director. Every piece of handcrafted furniture and imported linen or tile had a story. By the time they distributed the three-page sample menu, of which I understood thirty percent or so, I wanted to kneel on the floor -- made of imported Italian bronze -- and beg for mercy.
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It was one thing to critique the room, but when early reviews called the dining room staff somber, we were dismayed. This was exactly what we wanted to avoid. "Invisible" we could live with, but "ghostly" we would not. One could argue that good service is subjective. Some people find a waiter cold if she doesn't introduce herself, treat the host like her favorite uncle, and write "thank you" on the check in bubble letters. Others prefer an unsmiling man with an accent, a master of the bow-and-retreat default move.
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The gentleman on table twenty-three plans to propose and has arranged for us to deliver a Fabergé egg at the end of their meal. Proposals are nerve-racking for everyone involved. While terrified lovers contemplate eternity in sickness, poverty, death, or worse, equally anxious servers imagine ruining what might be the high point of these people's lives together, before the bankruptcy, the Botox, and his affair with the life coach.
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Once this is settled, preparations for key exchange can begin. The bestower is wise to dispose of anything sordid and all evidence of relationships past. This includes erasing browser histories; clearing the digital camera; combing the apartment for renegade hairs; establishing passwords for the BlackBerry, Palm, or cell; lowering the volume on the answering machine; and alerting potential callers.
All in all, I found this book to be entertaining as well as informative. Peeking into of one of New York's fanciest restaurants through the eyes of the wait staff was revealing and fun!