Monday, April 30, 2007

Epicure in Three Acts

Act I - The Game
About two months ago I started planning for what turned out to be the biggest catering gig I've had to date... not the most people, but the most complicated by far. Seemed fairly simple in the beginning - 200 people, fancy hors d'oeuvres, filet mignon, full bar, etc... same old drill. Soon after my first meeting I got an inkling of what I was in for - I met with the food committee comprised of three volunteers excited to sink their teeth in, an off shoot of a larger event committee made up of 15 people. The event committee's first meeting apparently was pretty short, and the only minutes I ever came across simply said "All in favor of making the caterer's life miserable? Motion carried. See you next Tuesday at 11:00."
So we start to plan, and the jobs pile on... can you make us a seating chart? Table diagram? Would you mind ordering the tables and linens, and while your at it, the glasses for champagne, wine, water, soda, beer... and how about making us a signature drink? Nothing much I can do about it though. A few more jobs, a little more planning, as long as they are happy, life is good.
Before I go on, let me just tell you how much I love what I do. I'll complain endlessly to anyone that will listen, tear my hair out, sit on the couch at 4AM thinking about what I need to do tomorrow, tear someone in half if I'm paying them and they aren't pushing hard enough, burn myself and bleed out to get something done on time, post on this blog... but you know what's amazing? Right in the middle of it all there are moments of such clarity, moments when everything is running perfectly and watching a party unfold is like sitting in front of an orchestra...
Act II - The Offer
Morning of, one of the workers is throwing up... which is not such a wonderful thing, because hurling isn't a quality I really look for in a server during a black tie event. A few calls later, I'm still coming up empty, and Sara says, "maybe we can get a babysitter, and I'll work with you."
Stunned silence.
Halting, nervous laughter as I try to think up a response (this was days ago, and I still haven't figured out what to say)...
Tricky business, this... Sara has a sort of "let me just do one more thing before I go" work attitude. She works longer than almost anyone I've ever known. I can't even count how many nights I've rolled over at 3AM to find her spot empty, and heard her computer clacking away downstairs. She's been back and forth to Miami, Prague, and London in the past months (and is in London again for the week right now) and just slips right back into the groove when she gets back. Do I want her to work with me though? Uh, no. That would be a no. A big juicy no. Just to be clear, no. Why, I'm still not sure... rather, I don't really know how to explain it without sounding like the TV Guide description of a Gordon Ramsay reality show. I guess, I'm not sure I want her to see the person I am at work. At home, I'm fairly lazy. I'll sit on the couch all day if I can get away with it (which I never can). At work, I'm occasionally an asshole. I like nothing better than being able to work harder than everyone else. I want everything to be done the way I want it to be done, I love finding someone green and malleable that I can show things too, and I'm happy to yell at them when they don't do their best. I love to boss around a team, and would rather burn myself than drop a hot pan of something I spent time working on. Love seeing people exhausted, love watching them wait for me to pay them so they can go home, and I love buying them a drink after we're done. On top of that, I like who she is, and I don't want to her to be a part of that world. Almost everyone I know in the restaurant industry needs to be fixed. Need to find a drug addict or an alcoholic? A narcissist, misogynist, sociopath, masochist? Wander into the back of a restaurant. During my busy weeks, especially when I have to hire people, I feel a little bit like I'm leading a double life. On one hand I have this amazing family - and then I go off to this bizzaro world that's like walking into a three alarm fire - where I've been yelled at (and yelled back), been sent to the hospital, watched people drop like flies, have panic attacks, steal lobsters by putting them down their pants, watched people do drugs and drink to excess, leave their wives, and had some of the best and worst times of my life. Do I want you to work for me? No. Wait, lemme think, uh, no.
See? How can I possibly explain that...
Act III - The Sting
I finally get a just-out-of-culinary-school girl to work for me, it's five hours before people are supposed to show up, and I'm already behind. Filets to sear, dressings, sauces, food displays to make - and I'm getting calls from committee members. Can we get more ice delivered? Do I have extra linens? Can we move the stage?... on and on... Two hours later Ken (my favorite, and by far the most dependable food guy I've ever met) shows up, and dives right in... Two hours later I'm pressing a towel into my hand to stop the blood from flowing while screaming into the phone at three servers who decided to carpool and got stuck in traffic (two minutes later I'm devising a plan to make their lives miserable)... and before I know it, it begins. The bar is humming, and food from our perfectly sculptured hors d'oeuvre table is disappearing... and for the next seven hours I'm jogging... Around ten o'clock I take a breath and stand at the back of the room - and here's the rub - three people working the bar, two servers setting up desserts, two in the kitchen breaking down, and I feel like I'm on a first date. For a minute, standing still, everything I've been thinking about for weeks is spread out in front of me, and it's like an orchestra all over again.
Two days later, I finally see the head of the committee, all smiles. "I had a meeting with everyone this morning... and you" he says, "are a rock star."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Thanks" but no "thanks"

You know, I may not be the best writer in the world, and I've certainly made my share of grammatical errors, typos, sentence fragments, etc... but you know what? If you can't write, don't write to me. I know it sounds snobbish, but I really don't care.... Here is the deal, can't complete a sentence? Having some trouble saying something? Never had an english class? Fine, email me, but get to the point. Want to spill your soul to me while asking for some catering advice? Buy a copy of Strunk and White, read it, learn it, live it, and then write.
Why am I acting like an ass, you ask? I am in the middle of negotiating this catering deal, and the guy who I'm writing back and forth to keeps freakin' putting things in quotes.
Thanks for making this "easy" (he says) I'm sure it will be "Fun"... You should talk to "John Edwards" when you have a menu (and the most random of all) I'm sure that "you and Kate will do a great job" for us.
"You and Kate will do a great job"... in quotes? Seriously? I really have to hold myself back from writing - Hey, I have an idea, why don't you make your own fucking "food", because you're driving me "insane" and I don't think that I'll "be able" to meet you in "person" without slapping you across the back of the "head". As it is, every "time" I get an email from you I feel like "stabbing my eyes out with a fork".
Sorry, I'm a little "tense" today.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Enid and the Nor'easter

As an homage to Regina and all of her trademark wiseass 'you're always sick' comments, I'll write a blog since I'm sick...
Amid the increasing chaos of menu writing and staff hiring that I have going on, I seem to have come down with a sinus infection or something... and the whole breathing thing isn't as footloose and fancy free as I'd like it to be. As a result, I haven't been in the best mood. Of course, Satchmo can sense all of my moods no matter how hard I try to disguise them, and has displayed his concern for my well being by becoming increasingly gassy. I should be flattered, I guess, because every time I doze off on the couch at night I am jolted awake by an odor which can only be described as alien - I suppose a dog's version of a cold shower and a slap - and he'll give me a sad puppy look as if to say, "did that help at all?". So as not to hurt his feelings, I've tried not to gag while giving him a reassuring pat on the head.
As stressed and crappy as I've been feeling, there are bright spots every day. Friday was a date night, and Sara and I went out to dinner for the first time in ... I dunno... forever. I had some raw yellowfin which was as fresh as it gets, a perfectly grilled lamb loin with creamy mint and pea risotto, a Cline Zinfandel, and a lovely wife that has been marinating in her own juices for almost 36 years. To top it off, our babysitter worked her magic and the next day Sam asked when she could come back... and at that moment I could have dashed into the street, raised my arms to the sky and screamed for all the world to hear "LET THE CHURCH BELLS RING, THE SIRENS BLAST! OPEN YOUR EYES AND WINDOWS WIDE, LET THE DOGS RUN AND THE WINDS BOW THE TREES! LET THE TIDES RETREAT, THE CLOCK STAND STILL, AND THE STARS WINK MY NAME IN MORSE CODE! STOP THE PRESSES AND SAVE AT LEAST 24 COLUMN INCHES ON PAGE B3 TO PRINT A PICTURE OF MY NAKED BUTT FOR ALL THE WORLD TO SEE - THEY WANT US TO GO OUT! US! TO GO OUT OF THE HOUSE!" Instead, I went with, "OK, I'll give her a call to see when she can come over".
Yesterday morning was a little bright spot too - two days of constant drenching rains had worn me down, and Monday morning's first glance out the window was a shocker. I expected dreary, but saw our big tree in the back yard completely caked with frozen snow like an enormous craggy twist of white coral staring back at me. Since power lines all around town were coated with ice and torn down by the wind, I had the day off while our daycare miraculously stayed open... so my sinuses and I stayed as motionless as possible and watched Tremors and Tremors II: Aftershocks, a pair of Kevin Bacon classics. As exhilarating as that may sound, I actually felt crappy enough to call the doctor who, as luck would have it, was closed because she had no electricity in her office. By last night I was praying for the sweet relief of death by the time Sara got home, and just barely made the trip back down to the couch while she put the kids in bed. As I was drifting off to sleep on the couch she came downstairs and told me that a woman named Enid at work started reading the blog, and I happily drifted off... thinking maybe there were other Enids at other offices, maybe even Margarets or Bobs, or a legion of Eds waiting with baited breath for the next post...
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