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 2007 Reed Business Information
Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiterby Phoebe Damrosch
While Phoebe Damrosch was figuring out what to do with her life, she supported herself by working as a waiter. Before long she was a captain at the New York City four-star/i>/i>
Kitchen Confidential meets Sex and the City in this delicious, behind-the-scenes memoir from the first female captain at one of New York City's most prestigious restaurants
While Phoebe Damrosch was figuring out what to do with her life, she supported herself by working as a waiter. Before long she was a captain at the New York City four-star restaurant Per Se, the culinary creation of master chef Thomas Keller.
Service Included is the story of her experiences there: her obsession with food, her love affair with a sommelier, and her observations of the highly competitive and frenetic world of fine dining.
She also provides the following dining tips:
- Please do not ask your waiter what else he or she does.
- Please do not steal your waiter's pen.
- Please do not say you're allergic when you don't like something.
- Please do not send something back after eating most of it.
- Please do not make faces or gagging noises when hearing the specials--someone else at the table might like to order one of them.
After reading this book, diners will never sit down at a restaurant table the same way again.
Cautioning readers that it may be offensive to "Republicans, vegans, pharmaceutical lobbyists, those on a low-sodium diet [and that] animals were harmed during the writing of this book," former waiter Damrosch tells of her 18-month span at chef Thomas Keller's New York restaurant Per Se. Those expecting a tell-all, name-dropping book, however, will be mightily disappointed; most of it is filled with Damrosch's love affair with a coworker. The book's appeal lies in the tips sprinkled throughout the text, e.g., "a diner's bill of rights," which includes the right to have water and enough light to read one's menu, and dining tips like avoiding making faces or gagging noises. Recommended for those interested in the inner workings of an upscale restaurant, but not an essential purchase.
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Read an Excerpt
Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter
The art of the day job
Eventually I had to accept that I wasn't working in restaurants to support my art like most of my coworkers; I was posing as an artist to justify my work as a waiter. The small café where I worked in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, employed artists as if there were quotas to be met: a drummer, a filmmaker, an actor, a dancer, a photographer, a designer, and myself—who at that point fancied herself a writer. Every so often someone would go on tour, decide to move back to some small town in some small state, or simply leave out of frustration with what he or she wasn't getting to do. It's a dangerous combination, this dichotomy of artist/waiter, one that often leads to listless service and half-finished Margaritas forgotten behind the computer.
I lived in a studio apartment upstairs from my high school sweetheart in Williamsburg (recently rated the hippest neighborhood in America—how scientific a study that was, I hardly know). We had broken up three years before and were now pretending to be friends, sharing a computer and sweaters, buying groceries, building bookshelves, and sabotaging each other's love life. That we spent most of our time together in the kitchen was no surprise; food had always been our bond. Between our early experimentations and our reunion years later, we had grown confident in our techniques and ambitious in our undertakings, mastering emulsifications and reductions, the art of kneading, and the importance of letting things rest. He played the chef, and I the visionary, reading recipes out loud from thefloor, my back against the refrigerator door.
When I found myself without a job, my ex-love suggested that I interview at the café where he worked. I would shoot for a busboy position since I had no experience in the business. When the manager asked if I knew how to make a cappuccino, I said in all seriousness that I didn't, but that I drank a lot of them. I have no idea why she hired me.
The café modeled itself after a funny amalgamation of cultures, from its curved mosaic ceiling to the eclectic cuisine, which I called Middleterranean: scrambled eggs with coriander and ginger, lamb shank with currants and pine nuts, salmon on Israeli couscous. Having just escaped my last job on Fifth Avenue with my sanity intact (I'll get to that), I pierced my nose, dyed my new pixie cut a dramatic platinum blond, and took to keeping my corkscrew, or wine key, tucked into knee-high boots. The café was perhaps best known for brunch, when the line ran out the door and we mastered the art of sprinting while balancing three or four coffee cups. Bed-headed hipsters make challenging brunch guests, barely able to utter their Bloody Mary order, let alone abide a wait for their eggs Barbarosa with crawfish and chorizo. Margaritas were essential to survival.
I was the only busboy not named Mohammed. Here, as in many restaurants around the city, any deviation from the distinct class/race hierarchy makes everyone uneasy. In most New York restaurants, the chef is Caucasian, the waiters are starving artists, the busboys are from Bangladesh, and the kitchen workers and dishwashers are from Latin America. I honestly think I was promoted so quickly from busboy to waiter because the chef and the waiters felt uncomfortable asking me to mop up their spills, take out the trash, and clean the windows. I certainly wasn't promoted for my skill or knowledge. When I came to the kitchen to pick up a salad, the cooks took a moment longer to anchor the teetering greens between beet support beams. They knew that when I picked up a bowl of soup the crostini, which was supposed to remain on the rim of the bowl, would be launched like a life raft into turbulent waves of soup. The foam on my soy chai resembled dish suds. I thought Cristal was a china company.
And yet, what better way to begin my career in the business than with a restaurant rife with clichés: roaches in the dry goods, mice everywhere, shady finances, messy love affairs, drugs, theft, basement flooding, and chefs with a penchant for throwing pots, pans, and produce. I lasted more than a year, in which time I saw at least ten waiters and two chefs come and go. We were always out of more than half the wines on the wine list and often couldn't locate the other half. The reservation system was a pile of Post-its.
When the neighborhood really started to boom and became saturated with new restaurants even hipper than ours, business lagged. The owners, whose only restaurant experience had been to piece this one together with duct tape and borrowed money, responded by hiring a real manager. They couldn't afford a seasoned one, so they found a cheap one. Enter Jessica, a smoky twenty-four-year-old with a severe bob and a crafty, brooding look. She fit right into the scene, with her leg warmers and short skirts, her carefully smudged eyeliner, and a tube of red lipstick she used as a bookmark in the new reservation book. Within months, both her drug habit and the fact that she was sleeping with the chef were common knowledge. One day she simply disappeared, leaving behind one black sneaker and a mirror. For a while, I took over many of her responsibilities: ordering wine, scheduling the Mohammeds, and planning private parties. The more involved I became in the business, the shadier I realized it was. We owed money to everyone and paid them off only when we needed to order something else.
I only began working in restaurants after I had exhausted quite a few other nontraditional ways of making a living. I had written a Web page for a Filipino dating service. I had walked a dog. I had consolidated online food reviews (my first and last desk job, lasting a whole six weeks). I had proofread for law firms, babysat for JFK's three grandchildren, and helped organize documentary film viewings at women's prisons. For two years after college, I pretended that I was about to apply to Ph.D. English literature programs, mostly because I had been in school my whole life and couldn't imagine anything else.Service Included
Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter. Copyright � by Phoebe Damrosch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Phoebe Damrosch is a graduate of Barnard College at Columbia University and holds an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in New York City and no longer waits on tables.
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This book has little to nothing to say about Per Se restaurant. A book selling you on the in-outs of Thomas Keller and the opening of his restaurant Per Se in NYC falls WAY short of delivering anything interesting. The stories about ANYTHING that happens in the restaurant Per Se are few and far between. Instead it's a story on; wait for it, a struggling writer in NYC who winds up in the hospitality industry, can you imagine? The rest of the book breezes over anything of substance with Per Se and instead focuses on her confused love life. Talking mainly about her relationship with her co-worker boyfriend. The author is the typical lost soul that finds herself out of work and falling into an industry that many find not by choice. She takes her 7 months experience working in a 4-Star restaurant and tries to puzzle together a few funny and half-interesting stories filled in with stories about her boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, friends, family, apartment, pets, love of food, school, and her boyfriend again. Want to read a story about the restaurant industry, Anthony Bourdain has stories to tell. Want to read a book about an out of work writer falling in love in NYC AND works as a server. This book would be AWESOME!!!
When I bought this book, I expected it to consist of stories and "secrets" (as it says on the cover) of being a waitress. Nope. It does have a FEW stories relating to Per Se, but most of it was about her love life and her love for food, which she pretty much talks about every other paragraph. I didn't buy this book for recipes, which she had included in case anyone cared. Want to read a book that promises exactly what the book will be about by what it says on the cover? "Waiter Rant" doesn't lie, it is a waiter that is writing AND ranting. Buy "Service Included" if you want to waste your time and money.
This book is a long paean to the four-star restaurant Per Se-an eatery so rarified that only a handful of (very rich) mortals will ever taste its seven-course extravaganzas. Oh yes, much fuss and brouhaha are involved in the preparing and serving of food, but I couldn't get excited about it. I also couldn't get worked up over the author's budding romance with a sommelier-a romance that takes up a disproportionate space in the book.
...into how to empower staff, how to train; an important look behind the curtain at the front-of-house contribution to a memorable dining experience. The personal life dramas were considerably less interesting. Without Tony Bourdain's snark (something that would be waaaay out of place at the sedate Per Se) those revelations lose much of their charm. Whoever advised the writer that they would make a valuable addition to the book was ill-advised. However, as one who totally buys into the Keller Experience, I was glad for the broadened knowledge of what stands behind it. A must-read? Perhaps not. A should-read? I'd say so. An easy read, perfect for the beach or a rainy afternoon? No question about it.
This book was unexpectedly hilarious, very different and totalling engrossing start to finish- could not put it down. I am an avid reader and this is one of the best books I have read in many years. The restaurant experience will never be the same after this book. Good luck new author!
Thoroughly enjoyed this book and loved the author's sense of humour.