Friday, 1 February 2008

The Geneva Menu Convention


I'm reading Table Talk by A.A. Gill the infamous food critic for the Telegraph, London not Belfast. It's not a bad read. The section on waiters made me laugh. Which, as I'm sure anybody who was here for Trevor White Week™, can testify is rather unusual. Waiters are usually nothing more background in TV food shows and amongst the supporting cast in movies. Honestly, watch the credits to any movie with a restaurant scene and when the credits roll there we are credited as WAITER NUMBER 1 alongside CAB DRIVER and DEAD GOON'S. Brilliant! They don't even bother to spend 30 seconds and give the guy a name.

What a travesty.

Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm is one of the few TV shows were the waiter gets more than a walk on part. They get to speak! Quite often they are remonstrating with Larry or being set on fire but hey at least they get to do more than serve the food and pour the water. We need more waiters on TV to inspire the next generation or something like that.....

But back to A.A. Gill's book.

His biggest problem with waiters is getting information from them,
"If you do ever try and prise information out of a waiter, it's like interviewing enemy airmen. 'I'm sorry, under the Geneva Menu Convention I'm only obliged to tell you my name and tonight's specials.'

Waiters, in general, are remarkably badly informed about what it is they are selling, but they always manage to make you feel like the dummy."
Takes years of practice that. As an example he sites his attempt to find out more about the venison.
Great, what sort of venison?

It's fillet, sir.

No, where does it come from?

From our specialist supplier, sir.

No, you don't understand, what sort of venison is it?

It's a deer, sir. They are wild animals. They look like elegant cows.
Oh what I wouldn't give for the opportunity to be so cheeky. I can push it sometimes but that is just waiting at it's best. Bravo young man bravo! Seriously though the point Gill was trying to make was that chefs are very difficult people to try and extract information from. As he puts it, "What other business has a need to know relationship between manufacturer and sales force?"

standard chef pose....

He is of course completely accurate in this assertion. Even my own head chef can be more than a bit evasive when you try to get information from him, even the smallest detail can turn into a game of twenty questions.

What's todays soup?

Eh vegetable.

Cream off or broth?

What?

What kind of vegetable soup is it?

IT'S VEGETABLE SOUP!? I DON'T HAVE THE FUCKING TIME TO PISS ABOUT WITH NOSEY WAITERS!

Jesus (whispered under breath)

At that point you have to just move down the pecking order and hope you can bribe a lowly chef de'partie for the contents of the soup with coffee and fags. And it's not as if you can just ask them straight out what the soup is, you have to lower their guard with talk of football and cars first of all and then hope to segue it in some how. Now there are only three possible explanations for this coyness.

First, they just don't know. Highly unlikely that the whole kitchen draws a blank. One of them must have made the soup.

Secondly, they are making it up as they go along. Quite possible, especially when it comes to specials. A little bit of this and a large dollop of that. Who the fuck knows what's in there by the time it comes to service.

Thirdly, they just don't like waiters. That's normally the most plausible explanation. Chefs, especially junior chefs think that they are the dogs balls and that they don't need to share their secrets with the likes of us.

It's like they have taken a vow of Omertá or something. The Gestapo would have struggled to find out what the lunch special pie contained. So the next time you are out for dinner and you ask the waiter is there chicken stock in the vegetable soup you should be aware that he is probably just guessing. Any way the book is a decent read even if the waiter section is only two pages long but still better two good pages than eleven and a half by Trevor White.

20 People trying to get Manuel's attention:

bendersbetterbrother said...

As he puts it, "What other business has a need to know relationship between manufacturer and sales force?"

They all do. Communication in any business is shite these days. Nobody knows nuthin', nobody knows who knows what you need to know. My knows. I need to lie down.

So, the blog awards, the oul' incognito's going to go out the window there, is it not?

Manuel said...

BBB: I have a mask in the pipeline...honest I do....LMM is a master at the old arts n crafts......I've got it all planned.......

Medbh said...

What, we're not going to chat using our screen names at the Irish Blog Awards? Oh, dear.

Manuel, what does Anthony Bourdain have to say about waiters in his books? Does he talk about them?

bendersbetterbrother said...

Or you could send a proxy and just hang about at the back, best of both worlds.
'Course they'd sus you out eventually when you fall asleep on the fireplace hugging the trophy the proxy "manuel" collected, perhaps even at the beginning of the night due to you asking the compere "Are you ready yet or would you like a few more minutes?".

Hiding, it's rubbish.
p.s. I've unscrambled your pic and posted it on my blog.
Consider yourself outed.

woody guthrie said...

Why are chefs so reluctant to divulge information to waiters? Is it because they know that waiters are just going tell the customer what they want to hear, so whats the point.( apart from your goodself).

Example; Is the fish locally caught ?
Yes Madam the chef meets the boat at the quayside every morning. When in reality the chef has never seen a boat or even a morning for many years.

savannah said...

OMG...i had a witty comment and THEN I READ BEBDERSBETTERBROTHER's comment...

i'll be right back

savannah said...

well, sugar, i couldn't find your pic on his site...bless his heart

bendersbetterbrother said...

check the header

ellie said...

Medbh said...
What, we're not going to chat using our screen names at the Irish Blog Awards?


You mean your not really called Manuel? Gutted :(

ellie said...

Bender, how much are you charging for copies of the unpixelated photo?

MJ said...

If the Irish Blog Awards had a Best Arse category, would you win it?

Or would Knudsen’s arse?

nursemyra said...

you like larry david and a a gill?

you and I were meant for each other

sheepworrier said...

Stoned off their trollies or flinging KPs against the wall, there's just no middle ground with chefs...

Manuel said...

Medbh:Bourdain has a healthy respect for us tray jockeys......but there is no specific sections covering us...

BBB: OH SWEET HOLY FUCK

Woody Guthrie: and the gravy is homemade too.....

Savannah: oh it's there......

BBB: stalker...

ellie: don't encourage him.....

my: my eyes! they burn aaarrrgghhhh

NURSEMYRA: I also enjoy lonely walks and black pudding...

sheepo: stoned is their middle ground....

upset waitress said...

Anthony Bourdain thinks waiters are whiney bitches. Hey, I went to one of his restaurant's last month. Honestly, out of 4 dishes, all sucked but one.

nursemyra said...

black pudding is yummy but white pudding is even better

Manuel said...

upset: he thinks you are a whinny bitch......he likes me though....

Nursemyra: all pudding is good....

fatmammycat said...

Hah! I have that upstairs I've just finished reading it. Very funny and quite astute.
White pudding on toast with white pepoer is divine, black pudding not so much.

Manuel said...

FMC: It is very funny....he's very last century if you know what i mean....embrace the black mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmpud

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