Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Waiter's Face Went White...



A postcard and true story, from 1973.

Making our way down the ink-black street, on a late July night, the first thing my parents and I took notice of was the quiet. Walking just blocks from our Paris hotel, we found the restaurant recommended by the concierge for a late dinner.

Opening a door at the street, we mounted a series of steps taking us into a large room. Bathed in the semi-darkness of candlelight, it held few diners and from where we were seated, the two large swinging doors led into the kitchen, out of which our harried waiter soon appeared.

After taking our order, the soup course was quickly dispatched. I was about to take the first spoonful when my mother's hand landed atop mine and she hissed, "Wait."

Concerned about a possible breach of etiquette, I looked into her face, seeing complete dismay, then noted her spoon as she checked from the bottom of her bowl upward. Taking mine, she did the same motion, unfortunately with the same result. She then looked at my dad and said, "I need to check that."

He handed over his uneaten soup, waited for her to look and wordlessly went in search of the chef. Seeing him depart the table, the waiter materialised and demanded to know the nature of our problem.

My mother knew a few words of French, all of them polite. She had no way to tell the man that Madame was was livid. It was down to me, showing the waiter the contents of all three bowls, spreading the findings on a pristine cloth napkin for closer inspection and saying, "Les cafards," before his face went ashen, then white, and he sputtered apologies.

Parisian waiters are known for being a bit brusque, so his reaction, overheard by a friend of the chef at the next table, soon brought out the chef and his staff, with my dad bringing up the rear.

Despite repeated assurances that the kitchen was clean and there were no insects anywhere, the chef looked through all of our soup bowls and glanced at the napkin, his face flaming.

He looked briefly at Madame, then at me before giving apologies to my father for this "irregularity."

Our omelettes were inspected and then eaten in silence.

I do not recall the name of the establishment. I am told by various bloggers in France that it is indeed uncommon to encounter soup teeming with anything other than its original ingredients.

Until Next Time...

17 comments:

Brian Miller said...

oh my...

the fly in the web said...

You mean you had additional protein not charged for on the menu.....!

nick said...

Les cafards! Eeek, one of my big phobias. I'm surprised you managed to eat the omelettes after that nasty shock.

the walking man said...

Yup there is never an infestation in the kitchen until it shows up on a diners plate.

Alan Burnett said...

You were all very brave to question it : I would probably have assumed that it was what smart Parisians ate.

A Super Dilettante said...

I remember a friend told me that in France, the customer is always wrong! The French waiters can be very rude especially to the British. I remember a story my friend told me a year ago. While they were in France, my friend's watch strap got cut off and while they were at the cafe, they thought they would ask the young waiter who worked there. Because he seemed friendly enough. My friend asked him if he could tell her where she could find a place to fix her watch. The waiter held the watch in his hand looking at it carefully for a few minutes and then, he returned it to her by saying; "Madam, it's cheap shit!".

Anonymous said...

Escargot, sauteed calf's brains, I am an adventurous diner but I draw the line at cafards.
I am sorry this happened to you in Paris, it happens all the time in NYC in the finest of restaurants.
I once had a live roach crawl out of my arugula salad and on to the white linen tablecloth.
Needless to say I lost my appetite and we left without paying, but only after accepting some brandy to steady my nerves.
I want to thank you for your recent kindness (you know what I am talking about).
X David

Mary Witzl said...

EWWW! I have eaten all sorts of things, but not cockroaches. I even knew an entomologist who wanted to develop insect protein as a food supplement, but he drew the line at cockroaches.

I once worked as a waitress in a really good Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. The kitchen floors were clean enough to eat off -- we scrubbed them with bleach and hot water every single day after the lunch shift. But we still had the occasional cockroach and one turned up on a cabbage leaf in a beautiful platter of raw food to be cooked in an iron pot in front of the customers. I was in awe of the waitress who handled that one: the customers were videoing the whole thing, and she managed to smile her way through the trip back to the kitchen -- where she screamed bloody murder -- then come back with a nice fresh platter and no cockroach. The customers left happy and full, and nobody but us ever knew.

French Fancy... said...

I know that even the best kitchens in London are meant to have infestations from time to time. I don't want to see them in my food though.

karen said...

wow! What a story..I love reading your reminiscences!

Ian Lidster said...

Considering the odd experience I've had in France, I am surprised they were so polite and apologetic.

Fickle Cattle said...

Yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck. I would have walked out.

I am Fickle Cattle.

Barbara said...

Nasty! I'm so glad your mother noticed. Did you have any difficulty conveying the info to the waiter?

FYI -- We did see live insects in the Thai market that would be soon making their way into Thai cuisine. I don't suppose the French menu advertised bugs though.

A Super Dilettante said...

Mydear, hope you had a nice weekend. Thank you so much for your lovely comment on my blog. It's much appreciated. Hope this finds you well.

Harnett-Hargrove said...

It's nice to know they aren't perfect either. -J

Baino said...

Well that sounds a lot posher than our experience, no concierge on the cafes we frequented but then no cockroaches that I could discern either! I'm kinda with
Allen, hey they eat snails and frog's legs apparently although I never saw either on the menu except in the very touristy areas and translated into English.

lettuce said...

this could be the story behind the joke!

:o/