17 January 2011
Podere Conti, Pontremoli, Italy
Tonight I really gained insight into the birth of opera. The depth of tradition and honor in this country is something you can feel deeply in your cells, and with a little research one can integrate quite smoothly. I recommend starting in the kitchen, since it is the most sacred of spaces, second only to the centuries-old churches perched high on mountaintops and nestled into villages. The birth of an opera in this century, one might think, is highly unlikely, but I can assure you that an American in the kitchen of a traditional Italian home is a think tank for operatic composition.
In my travels up and down stairs and around tables at the restaurant, I get lots of questions about our cheese list. I’m often surprised by the cheeses people steer towards, and by which cheeses never get ordered. I can’t seem to unearth predictable patterns, and perhaps that’s due to the wide range of knowledge levels out there. The one standby rule, which is my favorite, is that EVERYONE likes ALL of our cheeses once they take a bite. Never have I had to make the terrifying, rejected-food-walk back to the kitchen with a cheese plate.
Although winter is finally upon us here in Boston, I was struck with the urgent and somewhat inappropriate desire for ice cream after working the lunch shift. I felt awkward about this quest, considering the weather, and was not surprised to find myself alone in the shop. I got myself a GIANT cone (with chocolate sprinkles), and took a seat to gorge myself and watch the world go by. Here I discovered the not-so-secret role of ice cream on a November day.
I happily work for (restaurant) people I both like and respect, but there’s a certain in-charge person at my workplace that I can’t bring myself to enjoy. The feeling is clearly mutual, and nary a day goes by without said PERSON telling me I’m an idiot (in one way or another), or whittling away at my self-respect with persistent condescension. Hmph. Curbing my rage and subsequent bitter responses is a great exercise in restraint. Luckily, interactions like the following, furnish me with all the vindication I need.
Me: Where is the goat cheese we use in our [blahblahblah] salad from?
Evil Powerful One: Vermont
Me: do you know who makes it?
Evil Powerful One: Laura Chenel
Me: Oh really? Thanks. (silent interior victory dance)
Late one night a few months ago, at my place of (waitressing) employment, a British couple plunked themselves down at our little bar. The bartender that night (Josh, let’s call him) chatted them up for a little while, before, serendipitously, the conversation turned to cheese.
Sidenote: I find it incredible how often this happens without even a nudge from someone like me!
Anyways , this lovely (they were!) couple from across “the pond” said:
“Well you don’t have any cheese to speak of here, now do you?”
The other day, when I slipped in a puddle of olive oil while doing a rushed trot up the stairs at my “other” job, I was comforted by the knowledge that culture is part of my life. As I fell, the dirty glassware in my hands crashed to the ground in an epic display of noise. Menus slipped out from under my elbow and slid back down the stairs. As is typical in my life at the restaurant, EVERYONE was watching. Managers zoomed in for damage control, picking up debris as I got to my feet and apologized “wow, that olive oil slick is pretty serious…” etc. They asked me if I was alright (the only answer is YES), and told me to tuck in my shirt.
I pictured them all in a closed room, laughing maniacally as they crossed my name off of a giant list of “people worth keeping around.”