“I’d like to make a reservation for tonight, please,” said the voice of someone I figured to be a 12- to 14-year-old boy.
I was in the office, answering phones, feeling kind of okay because I’d walked an hour-and-a-half to get to work, and I was still in my sweats and not a suit. That would come later, after the hour-and-a-half walk home, a shower, and a change into black suit No. 6–also known as my “Saturday Night Is Special” ensemble when paired with a lavender top.
“Okay, certainly. For what time and for how many?”
“Um, two at 7:30. Do you have that?”
I wondered if he was for real, or if this was some bored tween and his friends playing a prank by calling random restaurants. He sounded young–not baby-young, but kid-young.
“I only have 6:30, will that work?”
“I guess so. I think we can be there, then.”
We may be new, but we are already a popular weekend dinner spot. Every table was spoken for and then some, and each one is mapped out before service. Are you comin’ or not, kid?
“Sir, we expect to be very busy this evening. We will be happy to hold your table for 15 minutes after your reservation time. Will that be okay?”
“Yeah, sure. We’ll be there.”
I took his name and phone number and put him in the system. A part of me knew he’d likely show. Maybe his parents told him to call for them. Maybe it was a homecoming date. You never know, right?
I knew him the minute he appeared in our foyer, on the dot at 6:30. “I’m waiting for my mom, she’ll be right here.”
Mom appeared a second later.
We seated them at one of my favorite deuces, by a window. The kid was beaming. I love a kid who beams when he’s taking his mom out to dinner. How many kids have I seen beam when they take their mothers out for dinner? None. This was a first for The Gal.
When the wine list was presented, and Mom tried to decline it, the kid coaxed her into looking at it. “A little alcohol, a glass of wine with dinner, is good, Mom.”
Seriously, I was falling in love with this kid.
So Mom ordered her wine, and I decided to resurrect my reporter’s training. Who on earth was this kid, and what was his story?
“How did you hear about us?” I asked as I did my I-am-the-manager-stopping-by-your-table routine.
The kid said he knew the chef at our owner’s former restaurant. Really?
A split second of silence followed that news.
“Well, let me explain the way our menu works,” I said, pointing to the sections, explaining our portions and various plates.
The kid smiled and nodded through my brief talk, at one point looking at his mom and saying, “See?”
Uh, yeah. Definitely a story here.
Over the course of three visits to the table, I discovered the following:
–He is 15.
–He goes to a high school I know very well.
–He started cooking when he was two, with his mom, when they made “Stone Soup” in nursery school.
–“By age five he was making quiche,” she revealed. “And he currently owns 750 cookbooks. I pretty much stay out of the kitchen, now.”
Okay, time to sound the trumpets and get Chef in on this.
Turns out, the kid works for a well-known fine-dining spot. I have no idea doing what. But, he outgrew kiddie culinary classes years ago. On Tuesdays, when he’s at his Dad’s, he whips up a 9-course tasting menu, on a pre-set budget. If he spends less, he keeps the difference. Thus, he is learning what I witness every day in our kitchen–let no potato skin or lobster leg go unused.
“So, when I have an extra $40 or so, I buy another cookbook.”
Maybe he’ll go to CIA. Maybe Johnson & Wales, “For more of a college experience, and to learn more about the business side.”
“Well, you have two years to think about it,” I told him. “Just keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll know what’s right for you when the time comes.”
All of the staff was smitten with the kid by now. He saw the kitchen. Chef visited his table.
He continued beaming through it all.
“I plan to remember your name, you know,” I smiled at him as he and Mom were leaving. “I know you’re going to be great–the next star in this city.”
“Thanks!” he smiled back, meeting my outstretched hand with a firm handshake. “Everything tonight was so great.”
As they went out the door to retrieve their car from the valet, I marveled at this kid’s complete and utter confidence, certainty and maturity–but nary a shred of arrogance. He is just a nice young man who enjoyed taking his mom out to dinner this Saturday night–even if he does understand more about what goes into our menu than any one of the FOH crew.
I hope he can hang onto all of that. And his smile.
What a gift the kid’s visit proved to be on this Saturday evening.
He helped to lift the shadow, just for a moment. And that felt so good, just for the moment.
Because this kid is a shining star on whom I pray no shadow will ever descend.