Friday was my wife’s birthday and we thought we would try someplace new to eat lunch – County Seat. It is in Livingston Mercantile area of Madison which expanded about two years ago and we pass whenever we take the “back” way to Madison but had never stopped there. They hold a Farmer’s Market much of the year which is highly regarded by many Jackson residents. Plus, we had recently watched the movie ‘Burnt’ with Bradley Cooper about a chef trying to get his 3rd Michelin star for his restaurant.
It was a pretty slow Friday afternoon so the hostess gave us our option as to where we wanted to sit and I said the dining room and a table vs a booth. I picked a table towards the windows to have light and a view and thought Pat would enjoy the view but she took a seat facing the open kitchen. I was feeling impish and in thanking the hostess I said it was my wife’s birthday and that though she was a secret restaurant critic we had just come for a casual lunch. The hostesses head snapped up as she said, “What?”. At which point I told her I was kidding, and she asked “Is it really her birthday?”.
As lunch was winding down I saw the owner / executive chef wandering around in the kitchen and called out to him. After asking how our meals were I told him about what I had done to the hostess and he gave a hearty chuckle. I went on to say that I had been a food service major back in college but once I realized that you had to marry the business I had decided I would rather marry a woman. However, a friend of mine back then who I had met at my fraternity as he was finishing up the 9 year program to get a degree due to his unusual program of only taking classes in the Fall during football season and then again in the Spring during rugby season got his start in “the back of the restaurant” through me. That was because while I was coming to the conclusion about my career in food service I was the ‘caterer’ for my fraternity. That meant I planned the menus, hired and fired the cooks, and the ‘waiters’ (fellow fraternity brothers who got paid to serve the food during meals) and cooked on Saturday night and Sundays.
My friend, George, who had worked as a real waiter in restaurants in Florida during the winters and then in New Jersey Shore restaurants in the Summer needed a place to stay and the cook had a bedroom and bath available to them in the fraternity house. Plus, he had been keeping me company and helping me cook the Sunday night meals. He asked at a time when we needed a cook if I thought he could do the job and as I loaned him my Food for Fifty cook book said, “Sure”.
He went on to cook and then manage restaurants in the college town, then in other towns, then switched gears to managing a resort hotel in Saratoga Springs and various other establishments.
‘There but for the grace of God, go I’.