Food Buzz Badge

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Under the Table

What would it be like to grow up in a restaurant?

And I mean literally grow up in a restaurant, where your father is the chef, your mother is the pastry chef and all the servers give you maraschino cherries and bring you little plates of food as you sit in the dining room doing your homework.

I'm fascinated by restaurants and their culture.  Charlotte Silver's Charlotte au Chocolat:  Memories of a Restaurant Girlhood chronicles the years in which her parents and then her single mother (I'm not giving away any major plot points here, I promise) owned the restaurant Upstairs at the Pudding in Boston's Harvard Square.  The restaurant, in a crumbling, Harvard-owned building, is above the famous Hasty Pudding club, which every year crowns celebrities Man and Woman of the Year and puts on a famous annual show that always features men in drag.

It makes for a fascinating setting, but what is more interesting is how restaurant life is perceived through the eyes of a girl.  For many chapters, it seems that she is the Alice in Wonderland of the restaurant world, crawling under tables and scaring customers, sitting in prim little party dresses for the amusement of the same customers and eating the fabulous desserts that her mother makes.  School nights and normal bedtimes don't really come into consideration.

When Silver described the swagged dining room with its pink accents, I couldn't help but think of a certain class of restaurants from a bygone era.  For many chapters, I thought that the time frame was in the 1950s through the 1970s--up to the point where I realized that Silver was younger than me.  The restaurant closed in 2001 after a lease dispute with Harvard, although a version of it reopened elsewhere--minus the unique atmosphere of the original.

While Silver isn't a great writer--the book is repetitive in spots--I admit that I was fascinated by her childhood.  It lacked structure and was constantly chaotic, but I wanted to be that little girl hiding under tables, stealing bites of her mother's famed charlotte au chocolate dessert, after which was was named, and speaking Spanish with the revolving cast of waiters.  I wanted to be this version of Alice in Wonderland.

It's a short book, but an appropriately sweet one for anyone interested in a unique perspective on restaurant culture.

27 comments:

  1. I've never heard of this - I'll have to check it out...sounds intriguing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This does sound like it would be good! A lot of people do not realize how much food can influence your future. I saw something on an elderly lady that makes gingerbread houses and cookies for a living. When she was young, she was intrigued at her mom's artisty of making gingerbread every year at Christmas. When she was little she always peered over the edge of the table to see her mom in action making the gingerbread house and decorated cookies. Enjoy the day!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I will definitely be checking thiss book out - sounds very interesting :D

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

    ReplyDelete
  4. I would love to check this book out.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Awesome thanks for sharing will check it out!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm ready for a good read. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  7. As a kid, I've always wanted to live in a restaurant as I always thought it was the perfect world. This sounds like a good read, thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  8. This world fascinates us too. I think we have watched all the reality shows that deal with this culture and I love restaurant wars on Top Chef. I think we truly romanticize this life and I know that I can't imagine how difficult it must really be. Thanks for the review!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Sounds like an intriguing book. :) I don't know if I would do to well in a restaurant setting... I eat too much as it is. :) Thanks for the great book recommendation. ~ Ramona

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've never heard of this book before, but I'm so glad you wrote about it because I'm very intrigued! I'm going to buy it on my Nook!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've always wanted to know what it was like for someone in the family to own, run or work in a restaurant. I still wish my grandparents had opened a restaurant when they had the chance! Definitely need to grab this book, maybe it'll give me a little glimpse! :) Thanks for the write up.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thanks for recommending. Will surely put it on my list. :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. I haven't seen this book before, but it sounds fantastic! Adding it to the list as well :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. I like to reading thanks for sharing will check it out!

    ReplyDelete
  15. The book looks interesting!! Would love to read this!

    ReplyDelete
  16. What a charming book, I need to get hold of it :-)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Seems like an interesting book and thats a honest review you have given. I have never given a thought on what would it be like if my parents have had a restaurant. Most probably everyone in the family would have some way or rather helping out to keep it going.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I think the book's title will be attracted ppl to look at it, especially with the word "Chocolate", and agreed with what Nava say.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I have been looking for a "food" book and this one might just be perfect.

    Thanks for the plot, but without any spoilers :)

    ReplyDelete
  20. Sounds like an interesting read. I've been lucky enough to have been in her shoes, of sorts!

    ReplyDelete
  21. I love to read. :) Hence all the books. I would like to check this one out I particularly love reading a book when the author describes experiences like this! Thank you for sharing this. :)

    ReplyDelete
  22. This sound like a fun food book for those of us obsessed with anything related to the subject. Very nice review. :)

    ReplyDelete
  23. I wasn´t mad about Patricia Volk´s ´Stuffed´- much along the same lines as this book sounds. Now that you know there´s a market for such a book, perhaps you could write a better version (I know you can!), and include some of the recipes that you loved growing up. Just a thought...

    ReplyDelete
  24. My grandpa owns Japanese steak Teppanyaki restaurant - he owns several restaurants in Osaka (not a chef). So I used to go to the restaurants a lot to eat and I become very picky about beef eating high quality wagyu beef growing up. I think food always interest me and also about owning restaurants etc. Thanks for the book recommendation!

    ReplyDelete
  25. I think I will be like doughnut sweet and plump. Jokes apart, this book seems interesting to me. i will check if it is available on e book.

    ReplyDelete
  26. It sounds like an interesting book to read. I will save the title for a future ref...

    ReplyDelete