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Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter Hardcover – 1 Oct 2007
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For starters, I don't think the Damrosch claims or pretends that this book will be a gossip column about all of the scandals witnessed at Per Se. It is a memoir about her life, bookended by her experience at the esteemed restaurant. 'Foodies' who are interested in what happens behind the scenes will get a firsthand account of what it is like to train and work at a four-star restaurant, including the pressure, camaraderie, pride, and self-doubt that comes with it. Damrosch has tales of Chef Keller and staff's generosity and absurdly high standards. Those who are interested only in celebrity gossip will be disappointed.
The book is ultimately about a young woman at a crossroads in her life, who is trying to figure out who she is, and happens to be working at one the world's best restaurants while doing so. I must admit that Ms. Damrosch's writing style sort of annoyed me, but I think the main failing of her memoir is that she isn't genuinely vulnerable in her accounts of her experience. She doesn't make herself out to be more exceptional than she is, but she doesn't let us in on her true feelings either. After describing in great detail the personal dedication necessary and the consuming nature of working at Per Se, Damrosch says that a period in her life was "defined" by two failed relationships without going into any of the emotional detail that would enable us as readers to connect with the experience. Similarly, she mentions her father's infidelity which leads to the dissolution of a decades-long marriage to her mother without exploring how that felt to her -- betrayal? relief? We don't know.
Damrosch is guarded while masquerading as transparent, and her readers are thereby kept at arms length from the deep emotions of her soul which we so long to understand and empathize with. As such, the (very interesting) details of Thomas Keller's prestigious restaurant are all we have to hold on to. Damrosch relies on our fascination with that mysterious world to sell this tale, tragically unable to see that we'd genuinely like to know the woman behind the collar as much as the wizard behind the kitchen door.
However, if you're a foodie looking for an easy read, you probably won't regret reading this.
As other reviewers have noted, this book is 98% about the author, her personal life, and how it involves one of the best restaurants in the World: Per Se. There is literally 0.002% "dish" in this book. There are no secrets. There is even less "eavesdropping".
It's not a bad book, and Pheobe Damrosch is a decent writer. But the publishing company really screwed the pooch on this title. So much so, that once you finish the book, you might be kind of angry.
I'm not even one to pick up an "US Weekly" or read "Page Six", but you simply cannot outright LIE when you title a book.
"Service Included: Life and Love Inside The World's Best Restaurant" wouldn't've sold as many books, but it would've been a much more appropriate description. And Ms. Damrosch's future as a writer might very well be adversely affected by such a blatantly misleading title.
( Oh yes, I forgot to mention my try at waitressing, at the old La Terrasse in Philadelphia, where I flunked out when the customer refused the bartender's third try at a banana daiquiri.) So read it! You can say you knew about her before she hits the big time!