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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
However, if you're a foodie looking for an easy read, you probably won't regret reading this.
As other reviewers have noted, this book is 98% about the author, her personal life, and how it involves one of the best restaurants in the World: Per Se. There is literally 0.002% "dish" in this book. There are no secrets. There is even less "eavesdropping".
It's not a bad book, and Pheobe Damrosch is a decent writer. But the publishing company really screwed the pooch on this title. So much so, that once you finish the book, you might be kind of angry.
I'm not even one to pick up an "US Weekly" or read "Page Six", but you simply cannot outright LIE when you title a book.
"Service Included: Life and Love Inside The World's Best Restaurant" wouldn't've sold as many books, but it would've been a much more appropriate description. And Ms. Damrosch's future as a writer might very well be adversely affected by such a blatantly misleading title.
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.
What Damrosch was attempting was as difficult as balancing five bowls of soup on one arm. Part behind-the-swinging door tell all, part romantic tale, part foodie book, part memoir, etc. The biggest issue is that while it reads well and I found it entertaining, the narrative itself is somewhat uneven.
On the up side, I did learn a lot about the training of a high-end waiter, and Damrosch did a good job in developing scenes. I enjoyed her descriptions of the food, and the overall feeling of Per Se. The parts about Frank Bruni's multiple meals, the whole "single cow" cheese incident and other anecdotes were well drawn. I liked her, and I wanted to see her succeed in figuring her life out.
On the down side, I was disappointed that there's nothing truly salacious in the narrative, and I didn't feel that I learned anything about Thomas Keller (although I was surprised to learn he was doing dishes one night). I wanted more about the diners. Who are these people spending hundreds of dollars on dinner? I wanted more behind-the-scenes stuff. After Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, there's a lot of interest in the sexy underbelly of the restaurant industry. But there was really none of that. (Maybe Per Se doesn't hire those people?) Her build-up to the arrival of the New York Times review felt a little forced. I didn't really feel there was any climax to the story.
I'm agnostic about her "tips;" I thought they were pretty obvious, but maybe they were revelations to some people.
The romance seems to get other reviewers, and I can see their point. It is not a heart-stopping romantic tale, they didn't run away to Paris or anything dramatic. But then getting the balance of romance in a book like this is pretty hard to get right. Even experienced writers don't always get this right; I thought Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl was too intimate, while Judith Jones' Tenth Muse could have used a lot more romantic tension, for instance.
I would recommend this book, with the caution that it is not a big tell all. I think Damrosch is a talented writer, and I enjoyed her style and voice, even if I felt that the book has some flaws. I would pick up her next title.