The other evening we were watching Bitter Sweet, a Starz television series, set in a fine dining restaurant. One of the themes of this episode was the heroine earning the accolade of being able to carry three hot plated meals, without a waiter’s cloth.
This got me thinking of how much food service in restaurants has changed in the 36 years since I was trained in silver service.
My studies demanded work experience. Being the embodiment of bathos, I had three jobs: function waiter at the Raven Hotel; hall porter at the Chateau Impney Hotel; and counter hand at Neptune’s Pantry, fish and chip shop.
Even at banquets with tables of ten plus people, everything was silver served. Runners, myself included, would lead by gathering a pile of superheated plates from the hot cupboard in the kitchen and stagger to the table, under the weight of the china.
The stack sat on the left forearm with one end of a folded waiter’s cloth underneath. The right hand, using the other end of the cloth polished and placed each down, from the left, in front of the seated guest.
One of the many Boadicean characters who had honed their craft year in year out followed with a silver flat of sliced meat and sauce. Behind came another runner serving vegetables. If you were unlucky the two compartment silver dish contained mashed potato in one and peas in the other. I am sure you can imagine the gloopy white and green nightmare that results from serving one then the other repeatedly, using a spoon and fork in one hand while carrying the dish with the other.
The shift started with the meat being plated then kitchens became more visible. Culminating in the presentation of the food being the signature of the chef.
Six years ago, during a sojourn in Sorrento, we were delighted to experience the drama of Crêpe Suzette in the restaurant of the Hotel Grand Excelsior Vittoria. The sauce was prepared and cooked from scratch at the table. The flambé echoed Versuvius’ antics, across the bay. It was reassuring to see that the theatre of food in the hands of talented wait staff was not dead.