Le Grand Dame

I was 17 years old, at my very first job in hospitality.

At a fine dining establishment to boot.

And I was timidly approaching my very first table I had ever served.

I had gone through a month of training; learning table numbers, menu items, service of wine, table etiquette, how to silver serve potatoes, and how to carry three plates. By week four, I was deemed adequate enough to warrant one table for that evenings service. I would be closely monitored by the Restaurant Manager himself. This was it! I thought.

I had researched as much as I could, studied hard, worked hard, prepared as much as I could. Whilst harbouring no illusions about the realities of the situation, I was relatively confident of performing at least an above average job.

I was 17 and knew it all.

At the table I politely introduced myself to Sir and Madam, enquired as to which water they would prefer, effortlessly reeling of the day’s specials, calmly offering to organize some pre-dinner aperitifs. Sir dismissively waved that notion away before pointing to the wine list, quietly asking for a bottle of:

‘Veuve Clicquot ‘Le Grand Dame’. . . ‘1995 vintage thank you.’

Sagely nodding my agreement I returned from the depths of the wine chiller with The Dame, offering it up for inspection to Sir. Nodding his acceptance and continuing on with his conversation with Madam, I gently placed the bottle against my knee.

I peeled off the outer foil.

I undid the wire casing.

And an almighty explosion went off in the restaurant.

People shrieked, some even diving under the tables. A man at the back of the restaurant jumped to his feet exclaiming ‘What the F-‘. All around people were whipping their heads back and forth, wondering, questioning. The bartenders froze; the Maitre’d threw his piercing gaze around the room. A kitchen hand poked his head out the door, other chefs behind him peering out.

In a shocked daze I looked up at the 3 by 3 meter window in front of my table, and saw what appeared to be a rock or bullet mark in the window; cracks jagged out from the epicenter in thunderbolts. Looking to my right, three tables down, I saw a young lady clutching her head, looking puzzled at a cork in her hand. Looking down I saw frothy pink beads of ‘Le Grand Dame’ cascading onto the table. Looking side to side I saw Sir and Madam looking at me with the same dazed and confused expression gracing mine.

I politely nodded at each of them, mumbled my apologies, placed the bottle on the soaking wet table, and rapidly ran for the kitchen.

Around five minutes later, when I was outside, hands shaking and attempting to light a cigarette, the Restaurant Manager came out and sat down beside me. He leaned over and lit my cigarette, and we sat there for a few moments, in complete silence. His laughter not only broke that silence, I was told later on that it could be heard all the way into the restaurant. Loud, ludicrous, incredulous laughter.

‘Thirty seven years’ he yelled. ‘And that has to be the best I’ve ever, ever seen’.

He shook his head, stood up and offered his hand. ‘Come on mate’, he smiled at me, ‘you’ve got a bottle to open’.

I looked back blankly, hoping to Christ I had heard that wrong. When he offered me a fresh bottle of ‘Le Grand Dame’, I seriously considered bolting from the building.

Only for a moment though . . .

Then I stood up, walked back out to the restaurant, politely introduced myself to Sir and Madam, presented the bottle, Sir nodded his acceptance, I leaned the bottle against my knee, I took off the caging, I draped my cloth over the cork, gripped, twisted the bottle, and detonated 750mls of ‘Le Grand Dame’ all over my legs and face.

It was some time before I was allowed back at a table.