When an Englishman moves to Paris with his girlfriend, he has no idea how hard it will be to crack the world of restaurant work, especially when she abandons him for a job back in Paris - and to be clear, he doesn’t speak French. Starting as a runner in a nice but hardly Michelin-starred restaurant, Edward (or L’Anglais) is drawn into a strange world of power plays and sabotage as he struggles to climb the ladder to waiter. From the moment a tray of dishes falls over and the staff hastily puts the dirty food back on the dishes, you know you’re not getting a celebration of French cuisine. No, this is a story of a Paris you don’t read about, filled with stolen tips, cut corners, double shifts, and nap breaks in hotel bathrooms, after which the staff go home to squalid living conditions. Have you read foodie memoirs where the waitstaff get a meal before their shift? Not here - you’re lucky to sneak an uneaten roll off a customer’s plate. Despite it all, Chisholm perseveres and along the way, finds companionship with the larger-than-life crew that keeps the restaurant going. Plus, he got an entertaining book out of it as well!— Daniel Goldin
Enjoy a virtual conversation with Edward Chisholm on Thursday, February 16, 2 pm. In conversation with Daniel Goldin and Lisa Baudoin for a Readings from Oconomowaukee event. Cohosted by Alliance Francaise de Milwaukee. Click here to register for this broadcast.
An evocative portrait of the underbelly of contemporary Paris as seen through the eyes of a young waiter scraping out a living in the City of Light.
A waiter's job is to deceive you. They want you to believe in a luxurious calm because on the other side of that door . . . is hell.
Edward Chisholm's spellbinding memoir of his time as a Parisian waiter takes you beneath the surface of one of the most iconic cities in the world—and right into its glorious underbelly.
He inhabits a world of inhuman hours, snatched sleep and dive bars; scraping by on coffee, bread and cigarettes, often under sadistic managers, with a wage so low you're fighting your colleagues for tips. Your colleagues—including thieves, narcissists, ex-soldiers, immigrants, wannabe actors, and drug dealers—are the closest thing to family that you've got.
It's physically demanding, frequently humiliating and incredibly competitive. But it doesn't matter because you're in Paris, the center of the universe, and there's nowhere else you'd rather be in the world.
About the Author
Edward Chisholm was born in England and moved to Paris after graduating from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. A resident in the City of Lights for seven years, Chisholm spent the first four of them working all manner of low-paid restaurant jobs, from waiting and bartending, while trying to build a career as a writer. Now Chisholm makes a living as a freelance writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Financial Times magazine. He lives in England.
“Chisholm’s fortitude in the face of hot-headed, violent chefs and infernal fourteen-hour days without breaks in pursuit of his goal is admirable, and makes for compelling reading. An entertaining and enlightening memoir."
— Times Literary Supplement
“An absorbing and moving inside look at a Parisian restaurant. [Chisholm] brings the restaurant world to life as he relates the stress, pressure, and anxiety felt by all the workers. The long hours, the competition among the waiters, the petty grudges, and the poor treatment by supervisors are all exposed. Most poignant are his coworkers’ stories: they share their hopes and dreams with him. With this book, Chisholm has achieved his own dream to become a writer.”
— Library Journal
"Through Chisholm's punchy prose, readers will be taken through his whirlwind career filled with angry knife-wielding chefs, demanding customers, squalid living conditions and panic attacks in the Pass."
"Mr. Chisholm’s story is immersive and often thrilling. The book is an amalgamation of his experiences in Paris, where he spent four years working various waiting and bar jobs while trying to make it as a writer. By all accounts he learned the métier and was a capable waiter. He’s a fine writer."
— Benjamin Shull
“A portrait of Paris is painted by a waiter in this candid memoir that forces you to take off your rose-colored glasses to see the complicated truth of the city. Behind the allure of luxury, behind the romance and charm, Edward Chisholm can see Paris for what she truly is during his time as a waiter. As he exposes the realities behind a Parisian restaurant’s ‘luxurious calm,’ he exposes the city of love as well.”
— Town & Country
"A Dickensian tale of a young man’s trial by fire in a French bistro gives rise to biting commentary on Parisian culture in Chisholm’s intoxicating debut. Chisholm renders the City of Light in vivid scenes of squalor and splendor, its romance and wretchedness mirroring that of the “great piece of theater” he starred in before eventually leaving the restaurant himself. Bittersweet and enchanting, this serves as a potent look at the gritty underbelly of a glittering world."
— Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A Waiter In Paris is a searing account of what life is really like ‘at the bottom of the food chain’, and Chisholm’s prose positively delights in describing the graffiti, sodden cardboard boxes and litter-strewn pavements."
— The Daily Mail
“Chisholm is a wonderful observer of people, of poverty, and of the French.”
— Simon Kuper, author of The Barcelona Complex and Spies, Lies, and Exile
“A young Englishman’s journey into the merciless world of Parisian restaurants is propulsive, harrowing, and expertly observed. I could practically smell the grease and feel his terror and—ironically—his hunger. I don’t think I’ll dine out in quite the same way again.”
— Pamela Druckerman, New York Times bestselling author of Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting and There Are No Grown Ups
“Edward Chisholm’s book is vividly written and merciless in its detail. Paris and its pleasures always leave one wondering about the seamier side beneath the surface, and here it is. I’d advise readers to enjoy it somewhere warm and comfortable, and on no account to try it before a gastronomic weekend."
— Edward Stourton, author, BBC broadcaster, journalist