Unfiltered Story #155157

, , , | Unfiltered | June 23, 2019

Although I grew up in New York with a half-guinea father whose Spaghetti Bolognese was famous within our family’s circle, my knowledge of Italian fine dining was relatively limited before the past year in which I have fallen ass backwards into server positions in three just such restaurants between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The first two were horribly run shit holes with logically slow business. The third and present one is awesome, and I say so not just for job security, as for obvious reasons I choose to keep the name anonymous anyway.

However, amongst other pet peeves such as long hours on the feet, needy customers with no manners and managers who don’t know how to tactfully delegate, one of my greatest annoyances in this temporary line of work has been the cliché of derogatory differentiations between Italians and “real Italians.”

As if I need to elaborate “real Italian” means actually from Italy, implying a romantic, cultured, well-groomed young lad with the finest attire to match his more refined culinary palette. Whereas “Italian,” as casually stated in conversation refers to an Americanized perversion of the culture: Cartoon-ish New York accents of pseudo-mob characters, real mob characters, and know-nothing douche bags with beer bellies hanging out of wifebeaters on a front stoop. Though it shouldn’t go overlooked that no “real Italian” will ever make a film as good as The Godfather or boast a futbol team as dominant as DiMaggio’s Yankees, while many of them are preoccupied with their archaic beliefs of misogyny, racism and homophobia. I digress.

I can’t help but note when some “real Italians” come into the restaurant their utter disgust when they realize they’ve gotten just some regular white guy as their waiter. An American who dares to only speak English in an establishment in America, who dares have a slice of pizza along with his pasta, or God forbid some parmesan on his shrimp pasta… as if the recipes had been written by Jesus Cristo. As my dad used to say: “Eh, ba fangul!”

One night I was giving the specials to a table of ten, mostly Americans but also two native Italians, one man and an older woman. When I told them the Fettucine Carbonara came with guanciale meat, the young man pounced in a thick accent.

“Guanciale? Are you sure it’s guanciale?” he asked.

“Yes,” I robotically repeated like the human menu I’ve become: “Guanciale,” and my inner-monologue of irritated judgment that everyone in customer service understands commenced.

“It’s not pancetta?!” he demanded.

“No,” and I admit he was starting to make me unsure. You know when you’re telling someone the truth but they doubt and question you so adamantly that you start to feel like you might in fact be lying? I knew the ingredients that I’d read on the [specials] board, but also that this asshole probably knew more about Italian food than I do (congratulations), and maybe there was something I was missing.

The exchange had turned into a show for the entire table. For establishment integrity I couldn’t immediately confess that I’d just lied, but became increasingly nervous that I was digging myself a deeper and deeper hole.

“Would you like me to go make sure with the chef?”

“No, no, it’s okay,” he half-drunkenly slurred. “I’ll take it… and I’ll let you know if it’s real guanciale.” Ugh… wonderful.

For laypeople, guanciale and pancetta are both pork meats cut from the jowl or cheek of the animals. Put simply, the former is more refined. The meat is cured for weeks, making it more delicate and flavorful. Pancetta is something you’re more likely to find on a deli sandwich, not in a dish where I’m presently enslaved.

After an hour or so I returned to help the busboy clean the table. The Carbonara dish looked like it had been licked clean and the douche looked up at me with a shit-eating grin.

“Lemme tell you something, brother. It was good, it was very good. But that wasn’t real guanciale. I know guanciale, and that was pancetta.”

I paused in that all too familiar moment of customer service terror, confounded as to how I would apologize and make this okay, both for my employer and myself. “Umm…. I think it is, but if you’re right I’m so sorry. I would have gladly asked the chef, but I’m pretty sure…”

“It’s okay, buddy, it’s okay,” he took pity. “Don’t worry about it. You’re okay.”

I am? How nice of you, senor.

He was in love with the show he’d created for the table. He, one of the only two “real Italians” in the entire scene, and me, a lowly American servant, uncultured, unknowing, just some plain white hack holding down a position without the proper tools to do so. Finally he let me go with a smile, but I hated that he’d “won,” not so much for my ego, but because I’d grown accustomed to being good at my job, and mini-failures such as misinformation just feel shitty when they get exposed.

For my own peace of mind I raced into the kitchen to ask the chef.

“Chef!” (you have to yell if you want anyone to pay you any attention in a kitchen). “Chef, is it real guanciale or pancetta? This Italian guy out front is trying to say it wasn’t real guanciale. Err… Is it?”

Our chef, a native of Puglia, Italy, immediately B-lined it to the walk-in refrigerator.

“Of course,” he said. “Wait here.”

Moments later he comes around the corner with what had to be a three-pound jowl of raw guanciale meat on a plate.

“Take this out there. Show him.”

And that was the moment I first fell in love with the chef. “The customer is always right,” sure… except in a false accusation that risks a fine establishment’s reputation in front of many parties present.

Carrying the fresh guanciale through the dining room I felt my heart racing with excitement like I was six years old again, taking my first breakaway play up the soccer field, with only the keeper between me and the net. I brought it out to the table and the older Italian lady was the first to notice.

“Ohhhh, look at that!” she exclaimed. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!

Dickhead looked up at the great beast and I swear I’ve never seen a facial expression that looked more like a shrinking penis than what fell over him. All of his conviction, all of his self-definition and bravado drained in one fail swoop as the entire table at once realized his error, each one of their reactions unique to their own individual personalities. I was setting-appropriately humble in my reveal. He was mortified.

He jumped from his seat, desperately needing to flee the humiliation, also seeking vindication by bolting into our kitchen to find some kind of camaraderie with the chef, his paisan.

Finally, in what was actually probably not one of his lowest moments, he was requested to leave. The chef is my paisan, fuckboy (we play volleyball together on the weekends now). He shook the chef’s hand, then mine, and back to the street, tail between his real Italian legs.

I was grateful he was not the one at the table paying the check and deciding gratuity; but even if he had been it would have been worth it to handle it in the same way. In a moment of beautiful retribution for service workers everywhere, the customer was wrong!