Most people, when they find out that I'm a chef, respond, "Oh, how exciting" or "That must be interesting." I usually just let my silence stand for a yes. I never know whether they have time to hear just how exciting or interesting the restaurant business is.
An example: One night last summer, as I came out of the kitchen to check on the hundred or so customers in my dining room, a busser passed swiftly, motioning with his hands to form a box in the air and mumbling something I didn't understand. My Spanish is good, but this was a word I'd never heard before.
I asked a waiter what the busser was talking about. "Oh," he said. "Didn't you hear? There's a snake outside." I wasn't too worried; I figured somebody else would take care of it. And besides, I hate snakes.
But then the valet whipped by, saying that the snake was between the curb and the cars that pulled up, and that a customer had just stepped over the snake to get to the sidewalk. We needed to act fast.
Outside, I saw it was no ordinary garden snake: It was long and black, with bands of black and yellow. I grew up in suburban southwest Houston, and the only snakes I watched for as a kid were copperheads. But I remembered one piece of Wild Kingdom lore: The more colorful the snake, the more poisonous it is. All I could think was liability, liability, liability. Do I have insurance for this?
Somebody had grabbed a tomato box, and to get the snake in it we started poking him with a stick. He reared up and flared out his face like a cobra. Everyone standing around -- waiters, bussers, managers -- shrieked and jumped. The customers started to notice the commotion.
Finally the snake clung to the stick, and we placed him in the box and covered the top with plastic wrap (with airholes, of course). Someone thought to add lettuce to the box in case he was hungry. Customers, as they left, took a peek at our captive. Some offered advice.
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We left the box on the restaurant's patio that night and hoped the snake wouldn't escape. He was still there the next morning, so I took him to the exotic-pet store up the block, thinking someone there might know what to do with him.
As it turned out, the store was happy to have its inventory back. The snake had been missing for six days and nights. The guy behind the counter told me he was extremely poisonous and was lucky to have survived Montrose Boulevard.
It took me a minute to process that. The snake was lucky?
Monica Pope is executive chef and owner of Boulevard Bistrot.