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Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter Paperback – October 7, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
A charming debut by a former waiter at the New York City restaurant Per Se slips in some high-end tricks of the trade. Vermont-bred foodie Damrosch was a few years out of Barnard College when she landed a job at chef Thomas Keller's Per Se. Fast-talking and prone to do her homework, in this case assiduously absorbing Keller's French Laundry Cookbook, Damrosch starts as a backserver, and her training is intensive: attending food seminars, memorizing the acreage of Central Park and learning how not to interrupt dining couples holding hands. In a few months, she's elevated to captain (a rare job for a woman), which entails navigating guests through the elaborate menus and essentially learning the subtleties of putting the guest at ease. Anticipating desire becomes Damrosch's role, as well as making sure New York Times food critic Frank Bruni has the best meal of his life. (Indeed, the place receives four stars.) She begins a romance with Andre the sommelier. Much of the latter half of this youthful, exuberant memoir is overtaken by their burgeoning affair, although the most delightful chapter, I Can Hear You, is full of vignettes of Damrosch's real-life waiting, i.e., the delivery of the Fabergé egg as a marriage proposal, and the parade of celebrities she meets along the way. (Oct.)
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Damrosch details her brief, yet remarkably fulfilling, career as a waiter and lays bare for readers the intimate workings of restaurant table service. Damrosch's ascent through the ranks at chef Thomas Keller's Midtown Manhattan's Per Se offered her a unique glimpse into high-end dining. Demystifying the hierarchy of captains, waiters, and busboys, Damrosch gives the uninitiated a crash course in those management and organizational issues that keep food streaming in perfect synchronization from kitchen to table. Although maintaining perfect service is a good restaurant's habit, success flows equally from good publicity. So Damrosch describes the frenzy produced in the kitchen by every sighting of a critic in the dining room. Without naming names, Damrosch also offers tales of overbearing, self-involved celebrities and their dining foibles. Tips on how to earn a waiter's respect (don't be a no-show; don't send back an entrée that you've nearly finished) pepper the text. Knoblauch, Mark
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Top customer reviews
For starters, I don't think the Damrosch claims or pretends that this book will be a gossip column about all of the scandals witnessed at Per Se. It is a memoir about her life, bookended by her experience at the esteemed restaurant. 'Foodies' who are interested in what happens behind the scenes will get a firsthand account of what it is like to train and work at a four-star restaurant, including the pressure, camaraderie, pride, and self-doubt that comes with it. Damrosch has tales of Chef Keller and staff's generosity and absurdly high standards. Those who are interested only in celebrity gossip will be disappointed.
The book is ultimately about a young woman at a crossroads in her life, who is trying to figure out who she is, and happens to be working at one the world's best restaurants while doing so. I must admit that Ms. Damrosch's writing style sort of annoyed me, but I think the main failing of her memoir is that she isn't genuinely vulnerable in her accounts of her experience. She doesn't make herself out to be more exceptional than she is, but she doesn't let us in on her true feelings either. After describing in great detail the personal dedication necessary and the consuming nature of working at Per Se, Damrosch says that a period in her life was "defined" by two failed relationships without going into any of the emotional detail that would enable us as readers to connect with the experience. Similarly, she mentions her father's infidelity which leads to the dissolution of a decades-long marriage to her mother without exploring how that felt to her -- betrayal? relief? We don't know.
Damrosch is guarded while masquerading as transparent, and her readers are thereby kept at arms length from the deep emotions of her soul which we so long to understand and empathize with. As such, the (very interesting) details of Thomas Keller's prestigious restaurant are all we have to hold on to. Damrosch relies on our fascination with that mysterious world to sell this tale, tragically unable to see that we'd genuinely like to know the woman behind the collar as much as the wizard behind the kitchen door.
( Oh yes, I forgot to mention my try at waitressing, at the old La Terrasse in Philadelphia, where I flunked out when the customer refused the bartender's third try at a banana daiquiri.) So read it! You can say you knew about her before she hits the big time!