Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 9, 2022

Book review: A peek behind the scenes of fine, upscale dining

Order’s up. And there it is, brought to your table and presented with a magnificent flourish. You dig in, only to find that the Entrecôte is overcooked, the coq au vin is too spicy and the magret de canard is too oily. What do you do?

If you’ve read “Your Table is Ready” by Michael Cecchi-Azzolina, you know the answer is complicated.

He never decided as a child to grow up to wait tables.

Michael Cecchi-Azzolina’s first job was as an altar boy at his local Brooklyn church where he competed with other boys to serve at weddings because it was customary to tip the altar boys, and “five bucks was a fortune!” Those Saturday gigs and his uncles’ mob connections were “constant” in his life then.

As a preteen, he used his own connections to get a job at a local candy store and luncheonette. It was there he learned to steal.

Business was good but it wasn’t safe, and so he finished high school in Florida, found theater in college and he realized how much he liked to act. He returned to Manhattan, hoping on Broadway, but instead found a job as a director’s assistant. The director got him a job in a restaurant.

Back in the 1980s, says Cecchi-Azzolina, the restaurant industry was “composed of misfits and losers, artists and drunks... some of the greediest and most narcissistic people... counterbalanced with the most generous... people on the planet.” Working with them gave him a chance to meet “the richest, the most powerful, the most celebrated” people in the world, celebrities, heads of state, finance experts, porn stars and billionaires.

He seated them, served them and kicked some of them out of the building permanently. He partied with co-workers who later moved on and some who died of AIDS, working his way up in various places from back room to “FOH,” helping open a few famous restaurants, witnessing as others closed.

“I was constantly in service,” he says – until closing time rolled around for good...

The very first thing you want to know about “Your Table is Ready” is that it’s rather on the raunchy side – a little bit Animal House, a little bit Caddyshack, plus profanity, alcohol and drugs.

The second thing you’ll want to know is that it’s really very fun to read.

Everything smells wonderful when the plates are placed on a table before you, but there’s so much more to the recipe. Cecchi-Azzolina regales readers with tales of what happens in the cutthroat (but very entwined) high-end restaurant business, from your reservation-making phone call until you stand up, belly full.

It’s a tasty tale that’s hilarious in the spilled details, gossipy tidbits about things we only suspect and the gonzo work side of the industry. Stories of spoiled and entitled customers make for a nice, realistic addition.

This peek behind the cooktop is delicious and if you love dining out, it can’t be missed. Just beware the profanity; ignore it, and “Your Table is Ready” is just what you ordered.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.