Before we had a baby, my husband and I would throw dinner parties on a regular basis. Sometimes these were small affairs, with just one other couple, but once a month we’d have a group of ten friends over for dinner and a movie. On these occasions we’d spend most of the day shopping, preparing, and cooking, and most of the next morning cleaning up the disastrous mess that we were too lazy to deal with the night before. While fun and rewarding, the amount of effort required to prepare a homemade meal for even a small group of friends is significant. For this reason, I’ve been fascinated with restaurant culture, in particular the sheer amount of work it takes to not only serve presentable and delicious dishes but to keep the restaurant to a high standard of cleanliness (certainly higher than my own kitchen!). I’ve not read many books about restaurants but it was with much excitement that I received an unexpected package at my door a few weeks ago, containing the book Delancey: a gift from my friend Lindsey. A few years ago, Lindsey introduced me to Molly Wizenberg, via her first book, A Homemade Life. It’s a collection of recipes and their related stories and inspirations, which was a surprisingly engaging format. I became a wee bit obsessed with Molly after I finished it and as I discovered the extension of the book: her wonderful blog, Orangette. I felt I could really relate to Molly and I could see a bit of myself in her (notably her disillusionment with her PhD).
But back to Delancey. The book chronicles the conceptualization and development of Molly and her husband’s pizza restaurant, Delancey. As I mentioned earlier, I think owning and operating a restaurant must be among the most demanding jobs out there. I was eager for a first-hand account from someone I could relate to (ie. not a celebrity chef like Anthony Bourdain). Disappointingly, the first few chapters of the book I found rather dry and impersonal: a step-by-step description of how the idea for the restaurant came to Brandon, Molly’s husband. While there were moments of interest, like a description of how Brandon developed his pizza dough, things didn’t get much more interesting until the midway point, when Molly finally acknowledges out loud to Brandon that she doesn’t want this restaurant. Up until this point, she’d been operating on the assumption that Delancey was another of Brandon’s many pie-in-the-sky ideas that would not actually materialize in the real world. Once they sign a lease on a space though, Molly must confront the fact that Delancey might actually come to exist sometime in the near future and, to put it mildly, she freaks out. This is the story I wanted to read about. How does a young couple, with very little restaurant experience, navigate the many overwhelming challenges involved in opening their own restaurant while keeping their marriage intact? From reading Orangette you do get the impression that Molly and Brandon are a bit of a super-couple who can open not one but two restaurants (since the writing of Delancey, Molly and Brandon have opened a bar next door) and raise a child (June was born in 2012). However reading the latter half of Delancey you realize, with relief, that Molly and Brandon are indeed human and struggle through exhaustion, multiple problems, and related marital strife in getting Delancey off the ground. The book cements my inclination that I could not (and indeed should not) own, operate, or indeed, even work in, a restaurant.