Classics are beloved for a reason. They offer a sense of comfort and connection to a shared human experience that withstands the test of time. Their longevity does not necessarily mean they are stagnant. They progress and adapt to the times without ever losing their defining essence. We see this all the time in brands, as with Coca Cola. They update their marketing campaigns to keep up, but the central product remains the same. We all know a Coke when we taste it, no matter how it’s dressed up. Another example–milk and cookies. You can use whatever kind of plant, animal, or cockroach variety of milk and choose cookies from Keebler to homemade oatmeal raisin, but the end result is still a classic experience.
The culinary world, and the restaurant scene in particular, is steeped in classic rituals. The Waiter by Matias Faldbakken is set in The Hills, an Oslo restaurant that truly embodies what it means to be a classic. Generations pass, but The Hills, with its perfectly timed waiters in uniforms pressed to perfection and fine china, remains The Hills. The only aspect of the restaurant that shows the passage of time is the political and pop culture stickers its patrons leave on the wainscoting (pg. 15). The central character himself, an experienced waiter who narrates the tale as if The Hills is the only home he’s ever known, says, “I stand here, straight-backed, in my waiter’s uniform, and could have just as easily have stood like this a hundred years ago or more” (pg. 3). What follows are pages of beautiful meals and culinary experiences. I especially appreciate the attention Faldbakken gives to the menu reading and ordering process. These scenes surrounding the art of of dining out are my favorite parts of the novel, and the author certainly gives them their due. However, when something as slight as an unusual patron completely throws our waiter friend off of his rocker so badly that he nearly forgets how to operate on a basic human level, Faldbakken shows that such steadfast adhesion to tradition for the sake of tradition can be completely absurd. If you’re looking for a plot-driven story, this wouldn’t be my first recommendation for you, but if you’re interested in a well-written novel that reads like a painting, give The Waiter a try.
I’ve chosen to pair this book with homemade croissants. Few things seem as classic to me as a croissant and coffee in the morning, and the breakfast experience is particularly ritualized at The Hills. Croissants also have an interesting history. Though heavily associated with France, they are Austrian in origin. The flaky pastries were born in Vienna as “kipfel,” supposedly as a commemoration of the Austrian victory over the Turks in the Siege of Vienna. Their crescent shape is said to represent the crescent moon on the Ottoman flag. A pastry with such a historically rich backstory is the perfect companion to this novel.
I baked these croissants using Paul Hollywood’s recipe, which can be found here: http://paulhollywood.com/recipes/croissants/
Do you like The Waiter as much as I did, or do you have an different interpretation? Let me know in the comments or send me an email! Also, if you try this recipe, I’d love to see how your croissants turn out!