Thursday, April 17, 2014
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HOFBERG: Culinary journalism

Frog legs? Sure, why not? Beef tongue? I’ll take mine medium rare, please. Escargot? Order me a dozen, and stay close in case I need to order another round.

I’ll eat almost anything you put in front of me. Add enough Tabasco, and I’ll demand seconds.

I’ve never been a picky eater and I’ve always had a huge appetite. That may be because I’m a Southern California girl who experiences a phenomenon called “The Munchies” on a regular basis, but it might also be because I was raised by a family of gourmet eaters.

As a kid, whenever my family and I went out to dinner, we were under absolutely no circumstance allowed to order off the children’s menu. We were only allowed to order off the full adult menu, we were also not allowed to substitute cheddar for Swiss, ask for dressing on the side or demand a hold on the tomatoes.

No, instead, we were expected to order the dish as it was prepared, and were expected to enjoy it.

The strict ordering rules at the dinner table are why I learned, at such a young age, to enjoy dishes like duck a l’orange, excruciatingly spicy Thai curries and salmon sashimi. How many 7-year-olds can you name that crave truffle oil more than McDonald’s French fries? I’m guessing not many.

I remember hating my parents at the time for denying me the pleasure of digging my teeth into a plain cheesy quesadilla or a big bowl of buttered noodles. But now, in hindsight, I have to admit their emphasis on fine dining is the best parenting decision they ever made.

Not only were we expected to have worldly appetites, but we were also expected to have impeccable manners.

When I was a kid, my dad made my three brothers and I read a book called “Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers.” Twice. It is from reading this book that I learned that when eating soup, you spoon away from yourself, not towards yourself. It’s why my napkin always goes in my lap as soon as I take a seat and why I always place my silverware at four o’clock when I’m done with my meal and ready for my plate to be cleared.

With a fearless pallet, nearly perfect table manners and no stranger to the experience of fine dining, it was no surprise that I landed a job in a restaurant during my undergraduate college years to keep my apartment stocked with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, American Spirit cigarettes and special brownies.

I started as a hostess and quickly moved up the ranks until I became, at just 23 years old I might add, the manager of one of the highest grossing and most popular restaurant in Santa Barbara, Calif.

I worked as a full-time manager at The Boathouse Restaurant for two-and-a-half years and in that time I learned the ins and outs of the restaurant industry.

As a manager, I had to know how to do every job in the restaurant from being a host, to bartending, from food running to dishwashing. I know that a server should greet tables within two minutes of the customer being seated, and that water is always served without question. I know that a server should always offer his or her guests dessert and under no circumstance should the salad course come to the table before drinks arrive.

And, for the most part, customers aren’t peasants ­— so don’t ever make them beg for the bill.

Once I got into graduate school as a journalism student I left the world of restaurant management behind me, but like a bad hair cut, the memory of the job will haunt me forever. I am constantly criticizing restaurant service, critiquing dishes and commenting on dining experience whenever I eat out.

Why did this hostess seat me at a table right next to another diner when the rest of the dining room is so empty that tumbleweeds are practically blowing right through it? How come I wasn’t told that there was a dinner special? No, sir, I am actually not finished with my plate, but thank you for asking.

In a city where dining opportunities are  endless and the types of cuisine are so diverse, I need a restaurant that demands my complete satisfaction with competent and knowledgeable waitstaff and satisfies my cravings for exotic flavor with original dishes or creative takes on my favorite classics.

Sure, I like a slice of over sauced and obscenely greasy Domino’s pizza as much as the next girl, but if I’m eating in your restaurant, make it a point to pull out all the stops — I always make sure to tip accordingly.

 

Kate Hofberg is a graduate student in the College of Communication. She can be reached at kwhofberg@gmail.com.

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