Most restaurant patrons only see the “front of the house.” The dining room. But if you push on past the hushed tones, obsequious smiles, and culinary kabuki, you’ll find yourself backstage. This is where the real work of a restaurant is done.
A rabbit warren of kitchens, prep areas, and offices; littered with boxes, cabling, and equipment, the “back of the house” is usually a hot, exotic smelling, linguistically varied, and loud place.
Now after reading my blog a lot of you think us waiters spend our time contemplating the mysteries of the universe or waxing philosophically about God and the nature of man.
Here’s a sample of some back of house conversations. Be warned. It ain’t Shakepeare.
“Hey, Carlos wants to know how old you were when you lost your virginity.” Armando, translating for Carlos our dishwasher, asks me.
I look at Carlos, a little Guatemalan man sporting a sly little smile, waiting for his answer.
“Tell him I don’t know. But if he asks his Mom she might remember,” I shoot back.
The kitchen guys roar with laughter. Carlos shakes his head. He set himself up for that one.
“Hey Boloni,” Fluvio says, beckoning me over to him.
“What?” I reply. (“Boloni” is how Fluvio addresses me when he’s exasperated with something I’ve done – which is basically all the time.)
“The guy on table three is a producer with HBO.”
“So?” I huff. I’m really busy.
“I pitched him on idea for a reality TV show set in a restaurant.” Fluvio continues.
‘It’s been done,” I say loading my arms up with platters of food.
“Yeah, but my show would focus on the waiters not the chef. Why do they do what they do? How do they handle the stress?” he elaborates.
“Drugs, drugs and more drugs,” I reply.
“You think you could write the TV show?” Fluvio asks. He is an avid reader of my blog.
“Sure I can,” I reply confidently.
“Good.” Fluvio snorts.
“One thing though.”
“You die in the end,” I say smiling.
“Yeah, you get it in the bunker scene,” I say running away.
“I think I kill you first!” Fluvio calls after me.
“Why is there an ice bucket on twenty six?” Fluvio asks. It’s a good question. The couple is drinking an expensive red wine. A 1995 Bertani Amarone.
“Guy said the wine was too warm.” I reply.
“So he put it one ice?” Fluvio asks disgustedly.
“Amateur. It’s been stored at the perfect temperature.”
“Morons,” Fluvio says walking away.
“Did you know that ‘puttanesca sauce’ translates to ‘sauce of the whore?’” Shlomo, one of our waiters, asks me.
“I did not know that.” I reply.
“Yeah, the tavernas would make that sauce for the hookers. The smell was supposed to attract male customers and the dish kept the ladies warm on a cold night.”
“You don’t say.”
“It became so popular everyone started eating it, not just the hookers.”
“Hey Armando,” I call over to the sous chef, “Does puttanesca sauce really mean sauce of the whores?” I want confirmation. Armando is from Italy. He’ll know.
“Puttana means whore in Italian, so yes it does,” Armando replies.
Hell, I learn something new every day.
“But if you serve it to the nobility it’s called “Sauce Bella Donna’ or ‘Sauce for the Pretty Lady’,” Armando continues.
“You can’t call the lady of the house a whore,” Shlomo adds.
“I guess not,” I say.
“We could put that dish on the specials.” Armando says grinning.
“Good evening madam. In honor of the getup you’re wearing we have a lovely special – linguine in a sauce for the whore,” I say pretending to address a table.
“You might get fired for that,” Sholmo chuckles.
“You think?” I say walking away. Everyone here is nuts.
Ask your mother? Drugs? Calling the customers morons? “Sauce of the whore?”
I told you it wasn’t always iambic pentameter back here.
Stay in the dining room if you know what’s good for you.
If you don’t – the magic will be gone.