James Vandewater
December 11, 2006

Valentines Day is a day for lovers to show their true feelings towards each other, exchange gifts, excessively use the statement “I love you”, and devour candy and food and sip on great wines. It is also a day where if you work in the food industry you work extremely long and hard to produce a menu these very same lovers will enjoy. Most years I am stuck working these long hours and never actually get a chance to experience Valentines Day with anyone but my co workers in the kitchen.

Valentines Day two years ago was a different story, that year I got to spend time with my current girlfriend a student at North Eastern in Boston. We decided we would go out to dinner and spend some time together. Since I was the one with a car I would drive to Boston and pick her up so we could go out to eat. This would be a day to remember forever.

That day it was terrible fidget out and there was a sharp piercing wind chill. It was about four pm and we had dinner reservations at six so I decided to leave and get there a little early, or so I thought. When I went out to my car it was snowing quit steadily out and I found that my car battery was dead. I had my roommate Ryan join my in the cool New England winter air to jump my car so that I could make it to Boston on time. On the way the snow was coming down in blankets, it was hard enough to see let alone drive on route 95. Things only got worse for me and my car from this point on. About twenty minutes into the ride my front left tire went completely flat, so here I was on the side of route 95 getting pelted with snow and blasted wind changing my flat tire. With these two set backs I did not finally arrive to Boston till five thirty; it should have taken only forty minutes but ended up taking and hour and a half.

When I arrived at my girlfriend’s apartment she was wearing a black dress that I had never seen her in before. She looked absolutely stunning, her hair looked as if it was just styled by a stylist and her accessories looked straight out of a fashion magazine. So here I was with my hair a mess and shirt semi wrinkled from the snow that I was soaked in when changing the tire standing in front of what appeared to be a teenage goddess. By this time I was in the worst mood ever due to my car and the snow but looking at her just made me smile and forget about the car. I didn’t have much time to stand there and admire her because we were already running late as it was, so we had to rush out the door.

At this point we had only thirty minutes to make it to our dinner reservations so we called to say we were running a bit late and the gentleman who answered the phone was clam and reassuring. This calm voice soothingly said to take our time and he would have a table for us when we arrived. This would the first of four times I spoke to this settling gentleman on the phone. The Boston Big Dig and the more than terrible directions I printed off of Map quest made it almost impossible to find the restaurant. This was Amanda’s first year in Boston and my second time in Boston so neither of us really had a clue where we were going. After about thirty more minutes we decided that we were so lost and maybe we should call back. The same voice answered the phone, and this time we told him where we thought we were and asked for him for his help. At this time he gave us directions to the parking garage and stayed on the phone with my girlfriend the whole time we were driving to make sure we got there. When we finally arrived at the garage, it was FULL! This day just keep getting better and better. By this time I just wanted to go back to Providence and go to bed, I had no motivation to keep going besides the fact that I never give up and all theses set backs weren’t going to beat me. I was going to get to this restaurant and thank that voice on the phone for all his help. Plus there was no way I was going to let Amanda down, especially not since she looked the way she did tonight.

Traffic on the North end was backed up beyond belief and driving was a near impossibility. I decided to try to fight my way through traffic and drop my eye-catching date off and see if they had a valet there that could park my car for me. As I dropped her off they informed me that they no longer had a valet but there was one up the street will take my troublesome car from me. So I headed back up the crowded street waited in the valet line for what seemed to be forever, and when I got to the front the guy informed me the lot they used was full. He told me “go drive around the block a few times and come back”. I thought wow this trip is getting to be so troublesome it’s unbelievable. Maybe I should have just worked like every other Valentines Day.

So now three hours late for dinner and my striking girlfriend sitting alone at the table I decided to head back to the restaurant. The compassionate man I talked to on the phone came out side to find out why I was back, and I told him what the valet had told me and he looked shocked. The man told me to go join my girlfriend and he would take care of my car. At this point it did not care if I never saw that vexing car again.

Now I couldn’t wait to just sit down and enjoy my meal, it felt as if I earned it after all this. When the first course arrived, the foie gras was seared to a golden brown excellence and the greens were seasoned to near perfect. After the first course the gentleman came to our table and said he took care of it, and when we were done someone from the restaurant would go get it for us. He also asked us about our first course and seemed to have a plethora of knowledge about food and wine. This gentleman seemed to be my guardian angle this night, and I didn’t even yet know his name. From this point on we were presented with flawless course after course. The meal was prepared by a culinary mastermind, someone who took every aspect of the dish to the next level. The meal seemed to be worth all the trouble that I occurred this evening.

After the meal I told the waitress about the car and she sent some one to go get it. As I walked down stairs the gentleman told me he took care of it, and we did not have to pay the valet. I felt terrible so I tired paying him for the valet but of course a man of his nature wanted nothing to do with my money. Before I headed out the door to the car I went to the bathroom, and on the way to the bathroom I saw about 12 magazine covers and or articles on the wall. They had title like “Best New Chef”, “The North Ends New Star”, “Top Young Chefs”. All these articles were talking about the man that had been such a help all night Chef Jose Durante. It turns out the man who did all this for me was the owner and executive chef of the restaurant, which astonished me. I didn’t even use the bathroom I just run straight back to the lobby where Jose was and thanked him. We talked for about 45 minutes after this and he was filled with culinary knowledge and incredible stories. From that day on me and Chef Durante have been in contact through email, and I would like to say he taught me a huge lesson that night. In one of his emails to me he said “We are hospitality”. Look back on this and pondering the whole situation he was right, he sure was hospitality, and dawned on me that being a chef was more than just cooking.

That night I learned that as a chef it is not just your responsibility just to run the kitchen and food, it is your job to ensure that every customer have a great experience and sometimes as a chef you may be a host, a valet, a dishwasher, or anything else you need to do just to make sure things run smooth in your establishment. This random act of kindness by Chef Durante is a memory that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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