MyMEGusta Reviews: Peeking Behind the Wallpaper, by Arno Schmidt
Arno Schmidt, one of the leading chefs of his day, has now published a lively collection of memoirs and anecdotes focused on what really goes on in hotel food and beverage, some at the highest echelons, spanning three continents and nearly a half century.
Starting the old fashioned way, as a lowly teenaged kitchen apprentice in post-war Austria, and eventually rising to be Executive Chef at stellar properties like The Plaza and The Waldorf Astoria, the author paints a vivid picture of life behind the scenes, and how the industry evolved over the course of his long career.
One of my favorite anecdotes has to do with dignitaries meeting at a hotel in Geneva, any of whose illness could have derailed delicate negotiations on Indo China (e.g. the partitioning of North/South Viet Nam), as the chef recalls dangerous (by current standards) food safety procedures which could have killed off, or at least sickened, major players and caused an international incident.
A breakthrough innovation during his stint at the Waldorf Astoria was Chef Schmidt’s hiring the first full-fledged female chef at a major hotel, Leslie Arp Revsin, a crack in the glass ceiling which enabled future generations of women to aspire to jobs never before open to them. She was among the women who prepared a 1978 Showcase of Women Chefs dinner there for Les Dames d’Escoffier, an organization of women leaders in food, beverage and hospitality (www.ldei.org). (Full disclosure, I’m a member, and remember that dinner!)
Photographs of elegant hotels and dining rooms are complemented by actual menus interspersed among the stories. And, there are delightful descriptions of how foods were prepared in kitchens with coal burning stoves, long forgotten in our age of high tech. The Wiener Schnitzel at a hotel near Salzburg, Austria in 1949, described in delicious detail made me think of the perfect, puffy and fresh and greaseless example I enjoyed in Vienna just a few months ago.
But the real fun lies in the stories of interactions among the “players”, truly little armies of workers who make things like seamless banquet service seem easy. For example the chapter about the Waldorf Astoria, goes to great detail about the complexities of leading a team to get great food out via multiple channels – private clubs, huge banquets, room service, and, yes, several restaurants – efficiently and economically in an often highly politicized environment.
For more information, or to purchase a copy, go to http://www.arnochef.com/ .