The $7-an-hour waiter who said no to Victoria Beckham.
Always a queue at the place that is too posh for Posh
Around the corner from me in Venice Beach is a restaurant with an unpronounceable name. Or maybe it's only pronounceable if you're cool enough, and clearly, I'm not.
It's called Gjelina, and despite its high style, vaguely pretentious air, and often haughty staff, the food is really good. Great pizzas, wonderful main dishes and one of the great desserts of all time, a butterscotch pudding with salted caramel and crème fraîche. It's worth the long wait and indifferent staff just to tuck into that salty-sweet confection.
By the way, it's pronounced "Jel-ina". The "G" is silent. Unless you're a tourist or some kind of clueless rube, in which case you'll mistakenly pronounce the "G" and instantly be identified as such, which is probably why they tacked the "G" on there in the first place.
But because people in Los Angeles in general don't mind being abused by a condescending waiter earning $7 an hour, Gjelina has become quite a hot ticket, with lines out the door. And it's a rare lunch or dinner that goes by without a celebrity sighting. In a short few years, Gjelina has earned a place in the handful of certifiably "hot" LA restaurants.
Of course, running a restaurant in a town overpopulated with cosseted stars and pampered executives can't be an easy job. Angelenos tend to saunter through of-the-moment restaurants as if they owned them, and for even the most B of B-listers, the menu is less a list of available food options than a point of departure for fanciful and capricious requests. Ordering "off the menu" is a sign of prestige and importance, which is why everyone in Los Angeles tries to do it.
I've seen a famous Hollywood name take a seat at a hip sushi bar, and then announce in a bored voice that she was in the mood for an omelette. Which they made. And I've had lunch with a studio executive who ordered a Caesar salad, then told the waiter to hold the salad dressing, the croutons, the garlic and the anchovy. In other words, he just wanted a pile of dry lettuce leaves. Which they made.
Gjelina is a little different. There's one rule that they enforce with an iron fist: no substitutions, no adjustments, no changes to the menu. No "dressing on the side", no "hold the mushrooms", no changes whatsoever. They are "politely declined", according to the menu.
But in a town like Los Angeles, an immovable object like a menu rule and an unstoppable force like a celebrity are destined to clash, and last week at Gjelina they did.
Posh Spice - more formally known as Victoria Beckham, the groaningly pregnant wife of football star David Beckham - dined with the short-tempered, potty-mouthed master chef Gordon Ramsay at Gjelina, and the unwitting Mrs Beckham made a simple request. Rotund and uncomfortable, moments from childbirth, she asked if pretty-please she could have a simpler version of a salad on the menu.
Nope, they said.
Wait, wait, wait, said prickly chef Ramsay. He reminded the staff that the woman is pregnant, and therefore hugely sensitive to taste and touch, and really wasn't asking for much. Surely it's easy to leave things off of a salad, he said.
Nope, they said. And that was that.
On the one hand, it's an awfully nasty restaurant management that can turn Victoria Beckham into a sympathetic figure. On the other hand, it's easy to see how a restaurant — especially a hot one in Los Angeles — could be forced to make and enforce such a no-modifications policy. On the third hand, she's a pregnant woman. Surely some kind of accommodation could be made for that.
Chef Ramsay runs an empire of terrific and accommodating restaurants. He's a terror to his underlings in the kitchen, but to his customers in the dining room he's a pussycat. He knows what an easy request is when he hears it, just as he knows what a troublemaking customer is when he meets one. If he says they should have done it, then they should have done it.
I wish, though, that I had been there to see the look on Mrs Beckham's face when the diffident, brusque waiter - whose entire net worth, I bet, is less than the value of a single piece of jewellery on her exquisite finger - shrugged, shook his head, and said: "No, sorry". She must have been astonished. She must have been baffled.
Who knows when the last time was that anyone told a celebrity "no"? Something tells me that the $7-an-hour waiter had fun doing it.
Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood