Despite our insatiable love for the retro, some things just are not primed to come back into restaurant fashion: lace doilies, tuxedoed waiters, tableside flambéing. I don’t have much use for the first two, but I’m a little bummed about the flambéing. Let’s face it: Someone setting fire to food right in front of you is totally badass.
My last class in cooking school was waiting tables in the fustiest restaurant on campus, a delightfully fuddy-duddy place where the kitchen reeked of clarified butter and the color scheme matched the makeup palette of the grandest dames of the Ladies Who Lunch set. We had candlelight wine decanters and cheese carts on wheels. This place was old fashioned as hell, and I loved it.
I always loved the table service classes in school. I enjoyed talking with customers, I enjoyed learning the intricacies of different types of service, and I enjoyed waiting tables alongside a bunch of cooks, most of whom obviously preferred to work in the kitchen, well protected from view. With our surly manner, our ill-fitting uniforms, our baggy aprons a shade of green unknown in nature, we were charmingly rag-tag, the Bad News Bears of hospitality.
My friend Amit had a boyish face and unflappability at the stove, but was secretly the surliest of all of us, and he darkened every time he commandeered the squeaky-wheeled cheese cart, biting his lip to get the sales pitch song and dance over with. Eventually, we struck a deal: He’d run all the dishes and silverware, and I would take over all the “interactives,” because, being trained on the karaoke stage, I worked my nights in desperate hope of an order for bananas flambé.
“You got one,” Amit would whisper, walking away with relief as I beelined for the gueridon, which is what we fancily called a cart with a propane burner. I approached tables with small talk and a flirty smile, usually to a woman 40 years my senior with a husband glad that someone was doing the flirting for him. I’d pull out the old peel-the-banana-with-a-twirling-fork trick and wait for the first wave of oohs and aahs. I’d sauté the bananas in butter slowly, teasingly, and wait for the scent to round out rich and full. A splash of banana liqueur, a shot of rum, a tip of the pan to catch the flame, and BOOM! Liftoff! There’d be FIRE EVERYWHERE, and the whole dining room would stop to watch me spoon flaming bananas onto ice cream. Cheers and shouts, whistles and catcalls, underwear flying through the air. Thank you very much! I’ll be here all week!
Amit would look at me. “You’re a jackass,” he’d say.