“…and she asked for refills.”

Caesar Salad

Still life with croutons

Have I mentioned that during a previous century I worked for a time as a waiter? There is something profound about the experience of waiting on others. Some people believe that this kind of work prepares you well for life and the workplace as a whole, and that everyone should do it for a while. A debatable point, yes, yet I think I tend to drift to the side of those who think everyone should do it for a while. Lindsay Lohan would sober up in record time if you slapped a visor on her head and put her in charge of a McDonald’s fryolator.

Lest you think I am slighting McDonald’s, I hasten to add that a former boss of mine outside of the restaurant business spent several of his teenage years working in a McDonald’s, and he was a fine boss indeed. I’ve always wondered how many of the qualities that made him such a good boss were the result of his time slapping patties on the grill.

Waiters bear witness as otherwise intelligent, educated, seemingly mature adults revert to bratty, child-like behavior (and that’s before cocktails). It can be a rueful revelation about the human condition. But there’s more to it than that. The bratty, immature behavior of those folks who have been celebrated due to their supposed culinary skills is perhaps even more of an eye opener.

In other words: your waiter is getting it from both sides. If the customers are at times unpleasant, some chefs are truly Nasty to the point of being abusive (the capital “N” is not a mistake). There’s something life altering about being yelled at by someone who looks like they showed up for work in grease-stained pajamas. Exaggerating? I think not.

One of the fine establishments at which I worked (I will withhold names to protect all parties involved) was famous for its elaborate selection of cheese, and one of the waiters found himself elevated into the role of the cheese steward. This role was similar to that of a sommelier. Sounds good in theory, although in practice this poor guy often became the chef’s whipping boy, a performance often repeated loudly and within clear earshot of the customers. It wasn’t directed at me, yet it still made my skin crawl.

Then there are the squeezes.

Waiters often find themselves squeezed firmly in the no man’s land between what chefs are willing to do for their customers and what the customers want, a/k/a, “No substitutions.” All parties blame the waiter.

There’s also bad management: seating an entire restaurant at the same time results in all orders being sent to the kitchen at the same time, which results in very slow service as the kitchen struggles to keep up. All parties blame the waiter.

Excuse me, but I thought time healed all wounds? It has been many years, and yes, I think I still sound a little bitter. Ah well, don’t cry for me; I am all smiles. You may have deduced from this harrowing tale that I bend over backwards to treat waiters well when I eat out. I do, although I am keenly attuned to poor service, and my practiced eye knows when it is the waiter’s fault, versus when it is the kitchen’s fault. I know enough to be a danger to my own enjoyment of the meal. My dirty little secret? I am not an enthusiastic eater-outer.  And I now have bad feet.

I was a crummy waiter (pardon the pun); my mind was often elsewhere, so take what I say with a grain of salt. In the meantime, here’s a funny story (ya got a minute?):

I was working a lunch shift the day after Broadway’s TONY awards.  This was a casual restaurant that attracted a surprising number of celebrities. You name ‘em, they ate there. Who should I find at one of my tables but two of the talented, celebrated actresses who had lost the previous evening? Perhaps a planned victory lunch gone awry?

I greeted them by asking, “But it was an honor just to be nominated, right?”

My props to them for restraining themselves from pummeling me about my person. Yes, sometimes it is the waiter’s fault.

One of my favorite tasks as a waiter was table side service. The reasons for this were twofold. First, the customers were hungry, happy I was there, and often engaged me in polite conversation. Second, I enjoyed making Caesar Salad, especially when I could leave a tiny bit for myself. Some nights I must have reeked of garlic. Caesar said it best, “Veni, Vidi, I ate the salad.”

And yes, one skill I took away from my waiter years is the ability to make a good Caesar Salad–at least I think they’re good, although I’ll be the first to admit that I belong to the school of “the more garlicky and parmesan-y the better.”

Caesar Salad seems to have supplanted the old wedge of iceberg with blue cheese I remember from my childhood as the salad that must be on every menu. The trouble is that the bottled, gloppy, mayonnaise-based dressing that is used is often not very good. REAL Caesar Salad–made to order from fresh ingredients–has freshness, lightness, and a bit of zing that the kind made with pre-made dressings can’t match.

Since you rarely—if ever—see the tableside version anymore in restaurants, may I recommend it as a make-at-home treat? No special tools are required, in fact, I, Mr. Kitchen Aid Devotee, discourage their use when making Caesar Salad. Two forks and a little technique are all you need. Mashing all the ingredients in a bowl with the two forks actually does a better job than a food processor or blender.

Let me address two things that may give you pause: anchovies and raw egg. Anchovies? Buy the quality kind in the glass jar. They’re not “hairy” and are much less salty than the cheap canned kind. (Mine came with a little fork to pull them out of the jar. Who doesn’t like a free utensil?) Raw egg remains a reasonable concern what with the recent problem with salmonella. If you can find pasteurized eggs, use those. Even easier is to use Egg Beaters. I know purists may take offense at this, but Egg Beaters are made from eggs, are pasteurized, and will lend a glossy richness to the emulsion similar to real eggs.

Finally keep in mind that this is an easy recipe, yes, but one that lives or dies on the quality of all the ingredients. Use good Parmesan cheese, not the deservedly maligned kind in the green shaker bottle. Buy the plainest croutons you can find, or even better, toast your own in the oven. The overly seasoned kind will overwhelm REAL Caesar Salad. (Yeah I know–sounds like Martha Stewart. But heck, I’m not asking you to bake the bread from scratch.)

Here’s a bit of celebrity gossip you won’t find on Page Six, in the Enquirer, Star, or at Perez Hilton. You’ll only get this kind of info here gang, so buckle your seat belts:

Barbra Streisand likes ginger ale with her lobster.

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Click here for the recipe for REAL Caesar Salad.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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