Reading: Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter

I’m a  wine lover, but not a wine expert, a gourmand rather than a gourmet. So what in the heck am I doing writing a blog about food and wine?

I enjoy finding spots to eat, whether that’s the best steakhouse in town (sure to spark a lively debate here in Seattle) or the best taco truck. And if I’m going to do junk food, it better be the best darned junk food around! My approach to wine is the same. I know the flavor palate that works best for me on an everyday basis, but I’m also up for trying unusual pairings, something new and unheard of, or someone else’s favorite. For me, food and wine are part of what makes life enjoyable.

I think that there are a lot of other people who are more like me – people who just enjoy great food and wine – then there are people who fashion themselves as experts.  And if you’re like me, you probably want to learn more about what’s on your plate and in your glass, especially if you can do it in a fun and informative way.

So I’ve started a reading group on Goodreads for the Seattle Bits & Bites community where we can share and talk about your favorite books about food, wine, and Washington State, You can find the group here. (For those who don’t know, Goodreads is a social book catalogue, sharing and review site and is free to sign up.) While I hope to add to the list regularly, I will review at least one book each month here on the blog and add it to our “currently reading” selection. I hope you’ll pick it up at your local bookstore, Amazon, or library and then add your thoughts to the discussion either here on the blog or in our group on Goodreads.

Our first book is Service Included:  Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch.

The first book for the Seattle Bits & Bites Goodreads book group.

Here’s what Amazon says about the book:

While Phoebe Damrosch was waiting for life to happen, she supported herself by working as a waitress. Before long she was the only female captain at the four-star New York City restaurant Per Se during its first year. Service Included is the story of her obsession with food, her love affair with a sommelier, and her amusing, eye-opening, and sometimes shocking experiences in the fascinating, frenetic, highly competitive world of fine dining.

Sitting down at a restaurant table will never be the same.

My thoughts:

Ms. Damrosch was a waiter when Thomas Keller’s Per Se opened in the Time Warner Building in New York City, and when her writing focused on her restaurant experience it really shines. Per Se features a daily nine-course tasting menu and a nine-course vegetable tasting menu for dinner, and a five-, seven-, and nine-course tasting menu at lunch.  It’s food as art, each course being just a few tasty bites, and an ingredient is never repeated throughout the meal.

I came away from the book having a good understanding of the training involved in opening an upscale restaurant, the various service positions, and the little things that can make a waiter’s day. . . or ruin it. This was neither a paean to Chef Keller, nor a rant. She speaks of him kindly, but the story is focused on her experience learning the business.

What I particularly enjoyed was how Ms. Damrosch learned about food and wine. From the studying required in staff training to awkward attempt to create masterpieces at home, to hanging out at other restaurants with the staff, she started to develop the taste and nuance of flavors. And she still loved a great diner.

Without a mentor to help me discern some of the more subtle flavors in dishes I’ll never develop this level of expertise, but I’d like to think that I have a better appreciation of both what goes into this type of food preparation and how complicated it is to run this type of fine dining restaurant. Dinner at Per Se is currently priced at $325 per person, wine additional. Reservations are available two months to the date by phone. You can read reviews – that aren’t from food critics – here.

Service Included is available from Amazon, or pick up at your local bookstore or library. Head on over to our Goodreads group to follow the discussion about the book.

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