Book Review: “Service Included” by Phoebe Damrosch

After reading Michael Ruhlman’s short list of recommended books on his blog, I checked out Phoebe Damrosch’sService Included – Four Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter” from my local library.  Like most people interested in food the mention of the name Thomas Keller captures my attention.  It all started with Anthony Bourdain’s “A Cook’s Tour” book where I first read about Keller’s world renowned French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, CA in Napa Valley and the fabulous meal that Bourdain was treated to there.   While in Yountville last spring we drove by the French Laundry and you could see tourists pointing at the restaurant and slowing down their cars just to have a look a the place.  I suppose for food lovers it is their Graceland and Keller is Elvis.  My interest in Keller grew after reading Michael Ruhlman’s “Soul of a Chef” and “Reach of a Chef” both of which discussed Keller in great detail.  While I am not as Keller-fascinated as some people like this woman who is working through the entire French Laundry Cookbook and writing an extermely interesting, funny, and informative blog about it, it would still stand to reason that I should then love Damrosch’s book about her time at Per Se too.

While I didn’t exactly love the book, it was an interesting read.  I found the portions of the storyline that involved Per Se fascinating and the portions dealing with her relationship with Per Se Sommelier, Andre somewhat boring. I understand that most relationships are not book-worthy but when a relationship manages to make the pages of a published book it should be interesting.  While I enjoyed Damrosch’s accounts of their dinners all over New York, including their marrow bone tasting, most of the other potentially interesting details of the relationship were either left out or never actually occurred.  Maybe its that Damrosch didn’t want to reveal too many details of thier relationship so as to not hurt people’s feelings (including Andre’s ex-girlfriend who he was cheating on with Damrosch) but that restraint made the relationship part of the book interesting to only two people, Phoebe Damrosch and Andre who can fill in the blanks because they were there.

Damrosch also showed restraint in how much she revealed about he co-workers, which I was okay with because the storyline regarding the evolution of Per Se from the days leading up to the opening to they day they were lavished with the coveted Four Stars by New York Times food critic Frank Bruni was so interesting that the book didn’t need to provide all of the juicy details of what the Per Se employees were doing.  She even held back when it seemed like she was about to  spill the dirt on famous celebrities and how they acted at Per Se.

On more than one occasion she mentions that she has no television, a trait which I always find a bit pretentious and annoying.  If you don’t have TV, great but don’t constantly remind us in some attempt to make you seem superior to us rubes who cannot fathom a week without some TV time.   Plus it reminded me of one of my all-time favorite Onion articles, about a man who steers the conversation toward television whenever possible, just so he can mention not owning one.

Despite the dull relationship storyline, this is still an enjoyable read and anyone who is interested in Thomas Keller, or the New York food scene will find enjoyment within the pages of the book.  Also, unlike many food books I have read, with a few fictional enhancements to the relationship storyline and some creative Hollywood writing this could actually make a decent “based on a true story” movie.

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