A wonderfully entertaining and intelligent study of travels in the Indo-Persian world
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Cooks have charisma; waiters have penguin suits. This is unfortunate, but true. Throughout history, stories of refinement, greed, pleasure and excess follow the great chefs around. Lucknow’s Mahumdu, executing orders on special occasions for a hundred thousand sheermals; Alexis Soyer, whose one-hundred- guinea banquet extravaganza contained turtle heads, cockscombs, truffles and crawfish.
Waiters, in contrast, are rarely heroic figures. As A. Waiter (outed as Steve Dublanica some time ago), ruefully notes, waiters are “people trying to become something else, people whose lives are falling apart, and people stuck somewhere in the middle”. Waiter Rant, which grew out of Dublanica’s popular blog, is something of a poor man’s Kitchen Confidential.
It’s not that A. Waiter/Dublanica doesn’t do his best to dish the dirt. You learn that most waiters work long hours, that they despise cheap tippers (big surprise) and amateur foodies who subject them to an origin-of-the-menu inquisition. Most good restaurants will keep a record of your service history, so be polite the way your mommy said you should; also, it’s a big mistake to say you’re a friend of the owner’s if you’re not. You also learn that any waiter worth his salt has two weapons deadlier than phlegm in the soup: they know exactly how to embarrass you, and they apparently have bowels that can produce deadly, silent farts on demand.
Dublanica comes across as a really nice guy — the Waiter Who Cares, but also the tough guy who can stare a mean customer down. To some extent, Waiter Rant does let readers see the innards of the foodie industry, and if this book gets the average customer to be a little more sensitive when they eat out, Dublanica’s done his job. But Waiter Rant doesn’t translate as well as some recent food memoirs for a couple of reasons. It’s too strongly oriented to American restaurants, and it’s not relevant enough to the Indian dining-out scene. It also reads like a blog that was cleaned up and slammed between the covers: think hamburger pretending to be steak.
It’s still fun reading Waiter Rant, though. Even if its message is very basic: remember that your waiter is human, too, be nice, and if you can’t, we hope you like your spaghetti with spit.
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