My first job out of college was waiting tables at a French bistro near Columbia University in Upper Manhattan. The place was like the U.N. The owner was an Israeli, the head chef a Parisian-Algerian, the dishwasher a Mexican from Guerrero. The bartender was from Dublin, and we had waiters from Delhi, Walbrzych, and Tel Aviv.
It was the perfect scenario for an American boy, wet behind the ears, to learn the way of the city. I often worked double shifts, during which I’d arrive at 10:30am to haul ice, set up chairs, fold napkins, fill ramekins with butter pats, and slice bread, before I got sucked into the vortex of lunch and dinner service. Because I was the youngest, I became a kind of mascot, and it was not unusual for one of the chefs to serve me up a plated special before the first shift in addition to the staff meal between shifts—Kadir’s couscous and vegetable ragout and Jose’s impromptu chili powder beef stew with fresh baguette were favorites.
I worked for tips and I got fed, but more importantly, I was initiated into a weird and chaotic family of strangers that produced a particular kind of theater. Our rag tag band of under the table part-timers managed to prepare and serve a plate of moule frites or hanger steak or lotte au beurre blanc in such a way that a New Yorker would come back for it. A daily miracle, repeated ad nauseum.
Justin Ide’s photo essay in this week’s feature is an unapologetic marketing pitch for the newly reunified Charlottesville Restaurant Week, which C-VILLE Weekly now sponsors and which has just under 30 participating restaurants this time around. But it’s also a love letter to the owners, chefs, servers, and back of the house staff who make the restaurant world go around. Tip ’em well.