(Blogger’s Note: Every Friday I run an excerpt of my soon to be published book, Faux Pas is French for Restaurant.)
Within moments, happy, New Year´s Day customers, would be parading by the kitchen window wishing everyone "Happy New Year", while shoving their hands and forearms, under the infra-red heat lamp in order to shake hands. With each handshake the employee on the receiving end would have to re-wash their hands before touching any food. By day´s end shriveled fingers would resemble the lemon found under the bar when we began construction, a year earlier.
When Kranston appeared in the window a second time, she had that look on her face. I knew the news wasn´t going to be any better.
"I just got three more cancellations," she said.
"So, we still have 247 reservations, we´ll be fine." I said.
"No, this time its the waiters, three of them. Hung over. Still drunk. And puking his guts out." She said.
A calmness suddenly cocooned me, as if my fate were diagnosed as terminal and I accepted the answer as though pleased to end the suffering. At least the mystery and anxiety over the disease seemed gone.
The kitchen crew could see my there was a problem. And, in kitchen Spanglish I explained that we had mucho problema with the Gringo staff. We were down one chef "No mas cocinero Jason. No mas, cocinero manana. No mas tres waiters." As always, they smiled at the gringo stupidity, shook their heads, and went on working, while mumbling under their breath what fools play restaurant. Half of our floor staff would not be assisting us today. And, we were still getting calls from people expecting to be seated.
Thank the culinary Gods, and John Cobb, New York restaurateur who taught me the art of coolerization Buffets when he mentored me for a year in the art of culinary smoke and mirrors. I had been serving them almost every weekend for the past ten years. Our Camp Kurahunga Buffet was a spectacular hit with the yoga set on Chestnut Street. Looking up at the clock, I knew I only had eight more hours of hell before I could enjoy my holiday.
I knew I had lost my edge. Years earlier, on a Friday evening, as Shirley Witherspoon sang melodies from an era long past, I would buy the house a drink and enjoy the company of friends and new customers who I would turn into regulars. And, it was a big house. I would converse, and glad hand as though a politician. Their votes would be tallied in the times they returned.
But at Camp, on Friday nights, I would ask Kranston why the people were sitting in our restaurant eating whoopee pie desserts and drinking Lattes. The crowd had changed. And so did I. I would have preferred to be home sharing my evening with Don Johnson, as I watched Nash Bridges.
With the salads prepared and plated, the chafing dish pans of baked eggs in the oven, the roasted potatoes on the sheet pans, and the waffles, ham and beef station ready to go, everything was in order. Kranston had once again performed her magic and made the presentation of the buffet casually elegant. The heights of society would come down from the hills to enjoy the sawbuck feast. After a quick pep talk at the staff meeting, Andrea Boccelli filled the room with Romantica and although a bit loud for an empty restaurant, the crowd would soon fill the space with clings, clatters, and comments.
I panned the restaurant, a smile came over my face at how comfortable the space appeared. A house broken on the inside, with a facade that felt so warm and appealing you just wanted to spend quality time surrounded by stone fireplaces and leather banquettes..
I looked around at what once served as the ladies room in its past life. Insurmountable plumbing problems forced us to stop using it as a bathroom and convert it to my office. How appropriate.
I needed to reflect, to calm down. It was only the night before, when one of my closest friends, John Vail, who I had worked with in New York, was sharing New Year´s Eve dinner and stories with the table.
How would he have handled the dilemma facing me? I thought back to those days in Manhattan, at Allen´s, and what I had experienced, how the people I had worked for almost twenty years earlier had ended up, and decided it was time to make a New Year´s resolution. I needed to change my life.