Anyway, the whole flambée thing of the last post was for me like the whump whump whump of helicopter blades to the Vietnam vet......post flambonic stress disorder.
My very first hour of work in a real restaurant (L'Auberge du Cochon Rouge, Ithaca, 1971)......the French chef (Etienne Merle) had just run some lame fucker off the extensive property for presenting himself as an expert in 'flamBEAUX'. He actually ran him off...as in screaming at him and chasing him up the long country driveway. Knives may have been involved. No, they were......
So, I started off leery of the whole flaming thing. I was relieved to be in the kitchen, far from the faux flames.
After a long and disgusting process at Auberge, I was finally able to extricate myself from the kitchen for the pleasures of the dining room. The chief skills involved there were serving everything from the aptly-named guéridon (war wagon). Almost everything was done in front of the guests: salads tossed tableside; ducks, trout and filets were boned and carved; side dishes served onto plates, sauces flamed, etc. And the desserts: Bananas Foster, Crepes Suzettes, Cherries Jubilee....the lot. When in doubt, douse it in Cognac and fire it up....... It was big in Upstate. Big in the 70's. (Though part of the reason we flamed everything was to cover the copious amounts of cognac and Grand Marnier we were guzzling like mad weazels).
In all fairness, Crépes Suzettes is a nice dish, when done right. Rub sugar cubes with lemon and orange. The rubbed sugar is then caramelized at the table, a little butter, flame with Cognac. Squeeze the fruit into the caramel. Stir with a half lemon stuck on a fork. Add the crépes, fold in quarters with your fork and spoon...flame with Grand Marnier. Serve.
Simple. Fragrant. Attentive. Nice. Maybe even romantic.
Anyway, Etienne was humanitarian enough to eventually secure me several jobs in The Big Apple. I finally stuck at The Colony, at Madison and 61st Streets. This was a Jackie Kennedy/Truman Capote-style place....lots of velvet, lots of history, lots of crystal. And lots of flames. Life was bright.
In August, however, New York empties like a sinking ship. Everyone leaves. Only tourists from New Jersey or worse ever darken anyone's door in August in Manhattan. (This was the summer of Watergate, and we spent lots of hours watching the Presidency come apart, while waiting for action..... Kind of like now....)
One night we had no reservations on the book. Zero. At Madison and 61st Street. In Manhattan. At four o'clock the phone rang. It was a couple from Atlanta. They had been in New York for their honeymoon, and were flying out on the family jet.....but they had not had a real New York dessert. Could they get an early table? Say, five?
Shit damn...why not? They arrived, and we seated them in the bar, to hide the empty dining room. We dropped the salad girl and the coffee guy at a table in the corner to further hide the emptiness.
I started on the ''Real New York Dessert''. I got strawberries, crépes, oranges, lemons, limes, piles of sugar cubes, a pillar of butter. Polish strawberry liqueur, cognac, Curaçao, Grand Marnier, Strega, Hexengeist.....151 Stroh's. I rubbed sugar, I caramelized.....Bang! Flames..cognac. Butter. Bang! Polska. I marinated the strawberries. I whipped the cream. I folded in Tuaca. I squeezed citrus. More flames.....Grand Marnier. I popped in the crépes. More flames...Hexengeist. I folded the strawberries into the cream. I pulled the crépes, unfolded them, plopped on the cream, folded it all up, put it on the plates.....and flamed it all again with 151.
As I approached the couple...with my best faux-French accent......"Madame, for the fuhst time ayny-way-yehre....Just for you......Crépes......excuse me, but what is your first name?''
Without a blink......"For the fuhst tam anywhay-yer.....Crépes Edna!''
Yeesh. The things we do.
Three weeks later I was fired for refusing to apologize to a Stock Exchange seat holder (who owned the next block) that I had thrown into the dumpster....a long story.
Two months later I was working in France....I got a call from my buddy still at The Colony: "Michael...what the fuck? I have this couple here from Atlanta. They just got married and they came here just for our famous Crépes Edna.......What the fuck did you do?"
Whump whump whump whump whump.......