Bookworm: Love dining out? ‘Your Table is Ready’ can’t be missed

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Correspondent

“Your Table is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maître D’”

  • By Michael Cecchi-Azzolina
  • c. 2022, St. Martin’s Press
  • $29.99 288 pages

Order’s up. And there it is, brought to your table and presented with a magnificent flourish. You dig in ... only to find that the Entrecôte is overcooked, the coq au vin is too spicy, the magret de candard is too oily, so what do you do? If you’ve read “Your Table is Ready” by Michael Cecchi-Azzolina, you know the answer is complicated.

He never decided as a child to grow up to wait tables.

Michael Cecchi-Azzolina’s first job was as an altar boy at his local Brooklyn church where he competed with other boys to serve at weddings because it was customary to tip the altar boys and “five bucks was a fortune!” Those Saturday gigs and his uncles’ Mob connections were “constant” in his life then.

“Your Table is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maître D’“ by Michael Cecchi-Azzolina.

As a preteen, he used his own connections to get a job at a local candy-store-slash-luncheonette and there, Cecchi-Azzolina learned to steal. Business was good but it wasn’t safe, and so he finished high school in Florida, he found theater in college, and he realized how much he liked to act. He returned to Manhattan, hoping on Broadway but instead, he found a job as a director’s assistant. The director got him a job in a restaurant.

Back in the 1980s, says Cecchi-Azzolina, the restaurant industry was “composed of misfits and losers, artists and drunks... some of the greediest and most narcissistic people... counterbalanced with the most generous... people on the planet.” Working with them gave him a chance to meet “the richest, the most powerful, the most celebrated” people in the world, celebrities, heads of state, finance experts, porn stars, and billionaires. He seated them, served them, and kicked some of them out of the building permanently. He partied with coworkers who later moved on, and some who died of AIDS, working his way up in various places from back room to “FOH,” helping open a few famous restaurants, witnessing as others closed.

“I was constantly in service,” he says – until closing time rolled around for good...

The very first thing you want to know about “Your Table is Ready” is that it’s rather on the raunchy side – a little bit Animal House, a little bit Caddyshack, plus profanity, alcohol, and drugs.

The second thing you’ll want to know is that it’s really very fun to read.

“Your Table is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maître D’“ author Michael Cecchi-Azzolina.

Everything smells wonderful when the plates are placed on a table before you, but there’s so much more to the recipe. Michael Cecchi-Azzolina regales readers with tales of what happens in the cutthroat (but very entwined) high-end restaurant business, from your reservation-making phone call, until you stand up, belly full. It’s a tasty tale that’s hilarious in the spilled details, gossipy tidbits about things we only suspect, and the gonzo work side of the industry. Stories of spoiled and entitled customers make for a nice, realistic addition.

This peek behind the cooktop is delicious and if you love dining out, it can’t be missed. Just beware the profanity; ignore it, and “Your Table is Ready” is just what you ordered.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.