Tuesday, April 22, 2014

They Heart Us,They Really Heart Us

You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I'm part of the ladies of RVA Dine.

Toast's owner Jessica had organized a benefit dinner at the now defunct 525 at the Berry Burke for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, staffed by an all female crew- chefs, hosts, servers and busers and even pulling from the food writing community. That's where I came in.

Of course I wanted to do my part, but with limited restaurant experience, I felt like my best contribution would be clearing dishes and pouring water, two things I long since mastered growing up in a large family.

And while plenty of the women serving had restaurant experience, many of them hadn't waited tables since the '80s. We were all inexpertly in this together.

We had to be there a half hour in advance of the dinner to have our picture taken en masse, the best female chefs in RVA in their chef coats along with the ragtag service staff, all of us in "I (heart) the ladies of RVA Dine" t-shirts.

Waiting for the 120 people who'd reserved seats to arrive, we stood around discussing what was to come, not sure how much of a clusterf*ck it might be, but convinced that to some degree, it would be a shit show.

As the first course was being plated and all of us convened in the kitchen to start grabbing plates, someone announced, "Would you look at all this pussy power in the kitchen?" I might not have phrased it quite that way, but okay.

The evening unfolded as a continuous stream of delivering plates and clearing them with filling water glasses and chatting with guests in between.

A former food critic complimented my writing, saying, "I always enjoy reading your reviews." When I thanked her with a raised eyebrow, she insisted, "No, I'm not just saying that. I like the way you write."

I took a quick moment to go to the bathroom between the third and fourth courses, finding the ladies' room occupied (of course) but a woman guest headed into the men's room and invited me along, assuring me that she was just going to change her shirt.

"When I got here, I looked in the mirror and realized you could see right through my shirt and with the size of my boobs, that's not good," she explained, trading her sheer blouse for an RVA Ladies dine shirt while I took care of business.

For the rest of the evening, whenever I was near her table, she called me "bathroom girl" and giggled.

At another table, a guy with a superb mustache looked at me and said, "So you really like the Daily, I guess," an odd thing to say since I've never been to the Daily. "You're in there like three times a week," he insisted. "Okay, maybe 17 times in the past month."

Explaining that that was impossible, he was stunned. "Well, then, you've got a doppelganger and she comes into the Daily all the time. She's really pretty. You should come in, too."

I said I'd take it under advisement.

Things were hot and raucous in the kitchen, with a bottle of bourbon being passed around and servers delivering drinks to the chefs who wanted them, but the plates coming out of there were picture perfect, clearly the work of pros.

Food-wise, I was most surprised that the dish prepared by Chef Carly of C'est le Vin and Chef Lilly of Pasture seemed to be the most challenging for diners.

Very few plates of the divine combination of smoked wild mushrooms, balsamic braised collards, quinoa and arugula almond pesto with a poached egg sailing atop it all came back licked clean.

Either they'd left the quinoa (although how, I can't imagine), pushed the greens to the side, or left part or all of the egg.

I had it on good authority from two foodies that it was a fabulous dish, so perhaps the crowd just didn't get it. I know when I finally got a couple tastes, I had to question people leaving even one bite.

And speaking of Chef Carly, she teased me that part of her kitchen routine is to drop something on the floor and ask a cute waitress to pick it up."If I did that tonight, I'd drop it in front of you," she said coyly.

It may have been because I was the only person on staff wearing a skirt.

At one point, I was clearing dishes and I clumsily picked up a plate, apologizing that it was my first time being a buser.

The plate's owner grabbed my wrist and asked what I did in real life so I told her. "That's so cool! We have to go out together. Soon. Here's my card." I stuck it in my bra.

Another table, another unexpected attention. A man said he could get used to being waited on by movie stars.

We're not movie stars, I assured him, laughing at the notion. "But you're RVA stars!" he said. I gotta say, that's a new way of looking at the life of a freelance writer.

While we weren't technically up to speed on service - there was much going in the out door - the camaraderie was terrific and it was great fun for someone like me who hasn't spent time in a kitchen to become part of the rhythm of the night.

By the fourth course (spring lamb loin and shank, barley, English peas, maitake and ramp gremolata, yum) of seven, I was feeling pretty comfortable with what I needed to do to serve, clear and water as many tables as I could get to.

I was particularly proud because I seemed to be the only one who hadn't pulled out a phone during her shift, long one of my pet peeves for real servers.

Over a few courses, I developed a special relationship with the two guys sitting at a bar table away from the main dining room, teasing them almost as much as they teased me.

It was in between the fifth and sixth course that Emilia of Heritage taught me and another serving neophyte how to balance a third plate. We looked at each other in wonder, sorry that no one had schooled us three hours earlier.

By the time we got to the double dessert course (and praise heaven because the staff had worried that we'd have to serve two dessert courses), I got some lovely validation.

At a table of all men, one looked at me and asked if he could get a coffee. His buddy nudged him and said, "Don't ask her. Karri's our server."

"I don't want Karri, " he said, ignoring his buddy and grinning at me from six inches away. "I want her instead." Coffee was never served with more care or a bigger smile.

So it only took me seven courses to get the hang of it.

If this freelance writing thing goes up in smoke, looks like I'll always have busing to fall back on.


  1. I think it's important to note that Carly and Lilly's dish was the fifth course in a stellar seven-course lineup - perhaps the not-scraped-clean plates can be attributed to straining waistbands more than anything else.
    Further, for those interested, last night's dinner was part of a ten-week fundraising campaign, and readers who are interested in learning more about Jess's spectacular efforts, how to contribute, and the life-saving, soul-affirming work of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society can do so here: http://www.mwoy.org/pages/va/richmond14/jbufford

  2. I think it goes without saying that part of it was fullness by the fifth course! But as someone who cleared a lot of plates, I know an awful lot of poached eggs (and quinoa) came back, which was just a shame.

    The dinner was a spectacular success any way you look at it - for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, for the diners who got to indulge in a fabulous meal and for those of us who got to work it and contribute in effort toward the worthiest of causes.

    I guess you could say pussy power is a beautiful thing to behold.

  3. WOW, there are sex abuse surviving porn stars out there with less need for attention and validation than you! Did you really write a post about, the first of it's kind, CHARITY food event in which the main theme of the writing was how many people hit on you and thought you were attractive while passive aggressively bashing two of the most talented women in the city? Is that really what you did, "pretty Daily regular", "skirt wearing lesbian crush", "movie star" "bathroom girl" who got something "stuck in her bra" while making a "special connection with men" and being more desirable than other servers? Please get a therapist...IMMEDIATELY.

    1. Shame on you - So very brave, Anonymous. Isn't it fun to hide behind being Anonymous? You can be as ugly as you please and then run and hide. This is hideous, cowardly behavior Anonymous. Reprehensible. If you had ever read Karen's delightful blog you would realize she revels in her life as a woman. Her short skirts and great legs are another character in her insightful and joyful entries. This is part of who she is and the joy she finds every day. You, Anonymous, clearly have a problem with joy. You are a small minded Anonymous piece of crap. My name is Glynn Brannan, and if you want to take this outside and let me teach you some long overdue manners - I say bring it, Anonymous. But that might require some courage Anonymous... and that you have none of. Until you find some, I suggest, as my darling mother (another great broad who had a fine set of gams) used to say "Sit down and shut up."

  4. Wow, read blogs much?

    Just so you know, my post is not a recap about a charity event.Look to your local news sources for that sort of thing. My post was a collection of little incidents that happened to me while I was waiting tables. You see, this is a blog about my life, not a news feed.

    I can't imagine where you saw any passive aggressive bashing of anyone, least of all two of the most talented chefs in the city. If you somehow read anything negative about my raves for Carly and Lilly's dish, you may want to reread it with someone with sharper reading comprehension skills.

    The dish was fabulous and I know because I tasted it. My complaint was how many diners didn't eat entire elements of it, a shame considering how beautifully married the flavors were.The fault was not with the chefs but with the picky eaters who, at $75 a pop, certainly had the right to eat however little they wanted of each dish. I simply made an observation.

    Here's the thing. This is a blog about what happens to me on a daily basis. No one on the planet has to read it, least of all people who don't get it or enjoy it.

    Why don't you find somewhere else to spew your venom instead of getting your panties in a wad about my life and my posts? If you had any sense of humor at all, you'd see how ridiculous that series of encounters during dinner was, which was precisely why it was funny enough to blog about. Perhaps the point was to make some societal observations about what people are willing to say to a stranger busing tables.

    It's unfortunate you had your day ruined by stumbling on to my blog. The good news is, going forward you can find plenty of other things to read. Better still, lighten up.

  5. Whew...hey now let's all lighten up. I ve been reading this blog on & off for a few years now. Like anything else on the "net" no one has to read it...nothing mandatory here. Besides it's just one persons' observations on things. Not the law, nor rules & regs to live by. I do not always agree with all that's being said,..of whether it's important or not ..sometimes I don't care one way or the other. Nevertheless this blogs creator is a prolific writer, ususally has something to say of interest, etc. she's certainly Pro-Richmond...that's not a negative thing. However her views & tastes are hers. Her readers , followers etc. hopefully are mature enough to think for themselves. Obviously with free speech we all can say what we think ..write & response how we may. Still there's no reason to be less than decent. She's not hurting anyone..neither should we...her readers.


  6. That little ugly rant from the courageous "Anonymous" was not an example of Free Speech. It was a textbook example of nastiness, cowardice, and probably jealousy. It was also a perfect example of all that is broken about our anonymous mode of communicating. The on-line vitriol and verbal ugliness that we seem to think is acceptable has poisoned personal expression. God forbid we should find joy in the human experience - when only sarcasm and put-downs are the only fashionable expressions. Free speech my ass.