Celebrity Dining


One of the perks of working in fine dining is said to be the opportunity to serve celebrities. Or in some cases, it’s a curse. But there’s always a good story.

A caveat: in most cases, my celebrity stories are so old that the name might evoke a “huh?” and a shrug from you millennial whipper-snappers. It reminds me of a conversation I had – back in the 80’s, mind you – when a co-worker and I mutually expressed amazement that one of our younger attorneys had never heard of Robert Goulet.

So if you know who Robert Goulet is, or who he was 30 years ago, read on. For the rest of you, I’ll provide helpful references. (For instance, Goulet was a rakishly handsome French singer who always wore a bow tie. Or maybe it was a necktie.)

A few years before the watershed Goulet discussion, I worked in an Ann Arbor hotel that invariably played host to the glitterati who were passing through town. Some were just a glimpse, like my amazement at how freakishly tall Ralph Nader was. Others were interesting encounters.

Let’s start with Vincent Price. (The menacing voiceover and maniacal laugh in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller;” I believe he had some sort of career before that.) I had the temerity to ask him if something I had read in a tabloid was true. It was something like, “To stay in shape, Mr. Price does 100 pushups and 100 situps each day.” Arching his famous eyebrow, Price kindly replied, “My goodness, don’t believe everything you read!” To this day, I have stopped taking the National Enquirer as gospel.

Marian Anderson, known for her rich contralto singing voice and breaking racial barriers, was wary of being seated for dinner in a restaurant that still allowed smokers. She got up and left without eating, fearing that her voice would be compromised before the next day’s performance.

Singer Harry Chapin (“Taxi, Cat’s Cradle”) was asked to sign an autograph for another diner in my section, and graciously complied. When he learned it was her wedding night, he wisecracked, “What should I write, ‘Think of me tonight?’”

More morose were punk rock pioneers the Tuff Darts, who sat through dinner speaking of existentialism and nihilist themes. Traditional rock and rollers were more fun. Fleetwood Mac, who I shouldn’t have to explain (*but see final paragraph), energized the dining room with their laughter and enthusiasm, while drinking our entire stock of Chateau Lafite Rothschild. In contrast, Warren Zevon (“Werewolves of London”) seemed impatient when I performed the wine service ritual during a room service, but he softened when his female companion came to my defense and assured him, “He has to do this, honey.” Looking at her, I understood his impatience.

An unnamed rock and roll band was more interested in other substances besides wine, asking around for staff if they knew where they could procure a certain supply. I believe one of our busboys came to the rescue. Another unnamed celebrity, who might have benefited from said substances to improve his mood, was impossible to please. Maybe that’s why he was dining alone. Our staff did marvel at his posh tour bus, parked in the back.

I never cease to be amazed by Americans, most of whom cannot name a single Supreme Court justice but can instantly recognize “Flo, the Progressive Insurance Gal.” But nothing can top my astonishment when I learned last year that my young legal assistant did not know who Joni Mitchell was. I frantically named about six of her songs before Lauren acknowledged, “Oh yeah, that one sounds kind of familiar.”

At least she knew Robert Goulet was on the Supreme Court.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at http://mayitpleasethepalate.blogspot.com/.