Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dine and Out in Paris and London

In the long list of things that he would no longer do as a result of this experience of indigence, George Orwell includes eating in fine restaurants, for as a kitchen worker in a top Paris hotel he had seen way too much of the 'back-end' of haute cuisine ever to be able to appreciate its front end. To look smart, food needs dirty treatment, he warns us:

"Roughly speaking, the more one pays for food, the more sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with it" and,

"Sound food is sacrificed to punctuality and smartness. The hotel employee is too busy getting food ready to remember that it has to be eaten"

...a set of observations that rang a few bells with me from experiences in my own service industry!

Orwell runs us through all the hidden abuses of the catering trade he had witnessed, along the way capturing some of the cynical coping mechanisms of different personnel castes within it:

"You are carving a chicken and it falls on the floor. You apologise, you bow, you go out; and in five minutes you come back by another door - with the same chicken."

"Once the waiter on the 3rd floor dropped a roast chicken down the shaft of our service lift, where it fell into a litter of broken bread, torn paper and so forth at the bottom. We simply wiped it with a cloth and sent it up again."

I have to say that my savouring of bistro life in Waiter Rant is periodically soured by what I can only describe as Waiter's rather swollen shoulder chip. At times he must look like Jean de Florette as he shuffles between the tables. By way of contrast, what intrigues me about Orwell's acute descent into servility in the French capital is the apparent absence of wounded pride − chippiness − in his dealings with both customers and co-workers and in the humour underlying his descriptions of them.

His verdict on the institution of fine dining?

"Supplying a luxury which, very often, is not a luxury....a hundred people toil like devils in order that two hundred may pay through the nose for things they do not really want."

Perhaps he would conclude that only the numbers involved are significantly different today. I know V would!

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