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Omnivore - Knife's Edge: Amateur night

The night when the uninitiated come out to dine, and overly ambitious young chefs show who the real amateurs are.

It’s a three course dinner culminating with a warm molten chocolate cake. Preceded by lobster or Black Angus beef, or both for a $25 supplement. A complimentary champagne toast. Live music from a band charging four times its standard rate. And party favors, my favorite being the shiny plastic top hat, epitomize the schlock that is: New Year’s Eve Dinner, Anytown, USA.

Amateur night.

Amateur night could be any Friday or Saturday night, when people who don't usually dine out head out on the town to blow a paycheck. But the serious amateur nights are New Year's Eve, Valentines Day, and Mother's Day brunch. These are reserved for that special brand of customer, many of whom haven't ventured into a restaurant since the previous holiday. It's a night that shiesty restaurateurs gouge prices. A night when guests ask for ketchup with their aged rib eye. And also a night when burned out chefs retreat into ubiquitous schlock, and overly ambitious young chefs mistakenly puff their chests out...

As a much younger chef, I relished my first experience with New Year's Eve. I viewed the evening from an unusually naive yet honest perspective. People would be looking for luxury that night, surely, and I was most willing to supply it at a premium. I persuaded my food and beverage manager to order the type of things chefs in neighborhood bistros can’t typically get.

Seven loins of milk-fed veal. Six blue-shelled lobsters. Five pounds of golden porcini. Four lobes of foie gras. Three pounds of beluga caviar. A wooden crate of Belons. Two pounds of Dover Sole. And one baseball size, fresh, black truffle. And as each special order was hand-delivered, it was truly the Twelve Days of Christmas for me.



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