Death of the social life, ruinous financial warfare and a genuine drive to be something are all topics contained in writer Edward Chisholm, who recounts his experiences as a runner, waiter and restaurant hand in A Waiter in Paris. It is the dying, noble profession that so many have tried to document and bring to life through various pieces of media, failing to do so because a blemish is missing or a character is out of place. To take it from the source is the best-case scenario, a scattering of scenes that add detail to a scattershot life in a Parisian restaurant. The ins and outs of the filthy business put in the limelight with an effective gaze on what it really means to be a waiter. What a nightmare.
A foodie’s nightmare is A Waiter in Paris. There is a definitive, dreamlike stature to dining out in The City of Light. Will A Waiter in Paris be responsible for second-hand Paris syndrome? It is doubtful because those enjoying brief trips to Paris are not finding the camaraderie of the early morning coffee house, the late-night climbs through narrow stairways, all beautifully developed by Chisholm’s strong prose. For all the infectiously intense moments and the genuine interest Chisholm drags out of his experience, it is still unclear why anyone would wish to become a waiter in such a bustling city. The pride is observed, and the cutthroat world behind the staff-only door is revealed, but little of it makes sense to a passing reader because it is hard to wrap the mind around why anyone would choose to be a waiter.
The hours are long, the work is hard, harder still if, like Chisholm, French is not a native language. It is a tactful exploration of how to leverage others into getting what you want, or in the case of Chisholm, what is needed. A Waiter in Paris has effective bits of dialogue that turn out as quick riposte that further develops the worry and tensions of a man without cash or friends. A Waiter in Paris is more about the comradery of the kitchen and the political state of Paris which dictates the waiters and cooks than it is about the survival of such a stressful role. That is prevalent, and Chisholm does well to balance the two, but they are so intertwined, well-explored and crossing over at every turn that separating the two becomes an impossibility.
Cutting and intense, but equally measured to give a perspective of an outsider trying to break into a culture that has an active distaste for him. A Waiter in Paris is not just a powerful piece that documents perseverance in the face of stubborn doubt, but also a strong companion piece to Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. As much as Chisholm tries to make the comparison as clear as possible, the smaller moments and details make it very, very clear. Paris has not changed since its days of crooked alleyways leading to miserable kitchens and despondent chefs. Chisholm has the unenviable job of painting that picture but does so with broad strokes and interesting results. As much an exercise in trust of the fellow man as it is a nervy and exciting dash through the underbelly of culinary experiences.