Reading: Service Included

7 05 2008

Service IncludedAfter completing a degree in English from Barnard College at Columbia University, Phoebe Damrosch wasn’t entirely certain what she was going to do with her life. She began, half-heartedly, to work on her MFA at Sarah Lawrence and started working in restaurants in her Brooklyn neighborhood. One experience after another and Phoebe found herself, by some culinary miracle, employed by Thomas Keller at his New York City restaurant Per Se. What follows is an examination of the art of service, how an exquisite captain knows when glasses need to be refilled, when to descend on the table with the next course and how to anticipate, as Damrosch writes, what the diner needs before they are even aware of needing it. Service Included is not a book that lifts the lid on a pot of stewing secrets about one of New York City’s most acclaimed restaurants but serves as witness to the dedication and culinary passion of a staff working to produce a superb dining experience.

I had originally heard of Service Included when Damrosch was interviewed on The Splendid Table a while back. I was struck by her wit and a pixie-like voice that made me note the title and author for a future trip to the bookstore. A foodie herself, she manages to write about service in a NYT four-star restaurant with enough detail to allow readers to fully understand the nuances involved without drowning the narrative. Per Se becomes the backdrop through which Phoebe grows into her life, entering into a relationship with Andre, the restaurant’s sommelier, and how she come to see herself as a writer. Her writing is bright, witty and was perfect reading for the first week of summer after a grueling first year as a graduate student. It makes me want to move to New York City and spend outrageous amounts of money on food; in reality, I will have to settle for continuing to work my way through Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.




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