The Foodist Chronicles
A few weeks ago I turned 35. Important because the only ones that matter after 21 are the ones ending with numbers 5 or 0. On this festive day in June there was no celebratory round of golf with the guys, no cigars on the green with cold beers in the cart. No posh steakhouse with family and friends in a revitalized part of downtown L.A.. No. This year I worked. In the same industry I’ve been working in for the last 15 of those years- the wonderful world of restaurants. And I love it.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve always felt at home in a restaurant. Not only for the food, but the ambiance and company as well. With a culturally inclined mom and a dad who just loves to eat, nothing was off limits. Classic American taverns, Irish pubs, Greek, French, Italian, Lebanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, we tried them all, and nothing ever got sent back. So when I needed a summer job while home from college, it seemed only natural that I get a gig waiting tables. The night of my 20th birthday also was one in which I had to work, and I would experience more pain and misery than ever before. By the end of the night, my pride would be gone and my soul consumed by banshees.
To paint the full picture, let’s just say my employer at this time was a major behemoth corporate restaurant. Two weeks of intense training: daily food and bar classes, quizzes, floor follows, and checkout procedures. It was boot camp for the food and beverage industry, culminating in the most extensive food and bar tests I’ve ever taken in my years in this business. After two weeks of working lunches, I received my first dinner shift…on my birthday. I had been so busy since getting hired I didn’t even think to request the night off, and of course nobody wanted to switch shifts with the new guy, so stuck I was with not celebrating my birthday for the first time in my life.
I was so green everything went wrong that night. I couldn’t remember anything from the dinner menu, all my knowledge from training had vanished from my brain. I couldn’t handle being double sat, then triple sat. Share plates were forgotten, silverware wasn’t re-set, orders went on wrong checks. Basically the whole night was me screwing up, apologizing, then screwing up again. Also, I learned that people who only drink water or iced tea ask for more re-fills than anyone else.
Finally, the end of the night arrived and all I wanted to do was go home, curl up in bed, and cry away any dignity left. I did my checkout, which took forever because my brain was mush and I was missing a credit card receipt. My manager fixed it and, for reasons still unknown, didn’t fire me. All total I had four tables leave no tip and the rest were barely 15%. Walking outside to the parking lot, a couple of my coworkers were hanging out smoking cigarettes. In an instant, everything changed.
They heard it was my birthday and knew I had been beaten up by the night. We walked to a nearby park where the rest of the night’s crew was just chilling in the dark with a cooler of beer. This is when I learned the other side of the restaurant business, the camaraderie of the staff that exists elsewhere only in the military, police stations, firehouses, and theatre companies. We had such a great time I completely forgot how awful I felt just a few hours earlier. The rest of that summer was the most fun I’d ever had.
Little did I know I’d stay working in this business after all these years. Like so many others, waiting tables and bartending would be a means to an end. A way to pay my bills, pursue my dream of making it as an actor, all at the same time. Well, the acting didn’t work out, but there’s always another restaurant. I’ve grown to love all sides of the industry, especially the new trends happening in Los Angeles and across the country. With gourmet food trucks, farm to table gastropubs, whole animal butchery, classic restaurants re-inventing themselves, and pop-ups creating lines down the block, the food scene in L.A. is booming. And I’m going to be here to tell you where to go.
I’m not here to tell you what’s trending or where to be seen. This is not about how to get on the list at that place you want to take your friends from back home, showing them how cool you’ve become since high school. That’s not what this is about, and just being real, I’ve never been cool enough to get on any list. I love restaurants and bars, it’s as simple as that. I’m going to be finding those gems and sharing their stories with you. Some will be spots you may have already heard of, others will be way off the beaten path. What they’ll all have in common is being worth the time, effort, and money required to enjoy a night out. From Venice to downtown, over to Boyle Heights and on up to Pasadena, there’s a lot of ground to cover in this town with plenty of stops along the way.
I hope you’re hungry.