A former fine dining server by the name of Edward Frame outlays the trials and tribulations of working as a captain at a three Michelin-star restaurant in "Dinner and Deception," an essay published in the Times over the weekend. Although he does not explicitly mention the name of the restaurant, it's obviously Eleven Madison Park — the give-aways are the "Make it Nice" plaque in the kitchen, the duck carved tableside, and the "digital dossier" that the restaurant keeps about its guests. And according to Linkedin, Frame worked at the restaurant from May 2011 to May 2012, which was the period before Eleven Madison Park's shift to the theatrical New York-themed menu, and its placement near the very tippy-top of the coveted San Pellegrino list [it landed at #10 in 2012, but ascended to #4 in 2014; it's currently at #5 on the list.]
Here are the juiciest reveals:
— As a captain, he had to carve the famed duck "ambidextrously," because "the cavity could never face the guest."
— He once convinced a businessman to order the four-course meal as opposed to the tasting menu after noticing that he was dining with "a pair of young women whose skin looked oddly synthetic." His pitch: "Sir, the tasting menu is a five-hour experience...Are you sure you wouldn’t rather spend some of your evening elsewhere?"
— As a busser he was trained to meticulously re-set the table in under three-minutes. A colleague recommended that he hum the Bourne Identity theme under his breathe, which helped.
— "[M]ore than once we had to interrupt coitus in the restroom."
— During line-up, FOH staff was quizzed on things like the type of stone used on the floor, and where the chef earned his first Michelin star.
— Servers sometimes internally played an "adjective game" where they tried to sell a bottle of wine with the "least helpful descriptors possible."
— And one night during his tenure at the restaurant, Frame witnessed a regular have a stroke and drop to the floor:
Impossible, I think, so I turn to my manager and ask: "What should I do?" I assume somebody has called an ambulance. The manager has just finished hurrying to push a Champagne cart in front of the possibly dead man on the floor, a lame attempt to hide him from nearby diners. Nothing in the service manual can tell him how to answer my question. This isn’t planned; the moment demands real empathy, real human understanding, and not the counterfeit variety he and I earn our living with.
"I'm going to go turn the music up," he says. "Just keep going."
Thankfully, the guy lived.
Here's Pete Wells's take on the essay:
Essential read on high end service. If I have a stroke in the DR, please don't hide my body with a Champagne cart. https://t.co/FK9WmVSk4w— Pete Wells (@pete_wells) August 23, 2015
The detail about carving the duck ambidextrously so customers never see the cavity is telling too. Betrays a similar denial of mortality.— Pete Wells (@pete_wells) August 23, 2015
And Andrew Carmellini chimes in as well:
thing to remember is, that this is blue collar work. Too much media attention and glorification has led people to believe otherwise— Andrew Carmellini (@andrecarmellini) August 23, 2015