On a January Monday, a table of three came in for dinner–a couple with their adult daughter. For drinks, the mother and daughter let me choose, telling me only what grape they’d prefer for wine. The father knew his drink, down to the rocks-and-splash-of-soda specifics. The daughter told me she couldn’t eat certain things, doctor’s orders, and I told her I’d confer with the kitchen to make sure we got it right.

As their drinks were being poured at the bar, I talked to the Sous Chef about the daughter’s restrictions. The restaurant owner overheard the conversation, and as a former nurse, understood what the doctors were testing. Between the Sous Chef, the owner, and myself, there was agreement on what few dishes should be avoided, freeing up the majority of our menu as fair game for the table. The owner discussed the menu options with the guests as I stopped at the bar for their drinks.

A moment later, pleased with their drinks, the father said, “You know what I’d really like? If everyone’s up for it…” He looked at his family and back to me again, “I’d like you and the Chef to choose what we do tonight.” He made a very deliberate motion of handing me his menu, while looking from his daughter to his wife.

“Oh, thank goodness!” his daughter sighed. If ever I’ve heard a sigh of relief, this was one. She, also, gave me her menu. “After the day we’ve had, if I have to think about one more thing…”

“I’m in,” her mother said, with a big smile.

“We’ll make sure everything is within doctor’s orders for you,” I assured the daughter. Then I looked at the three of them, “Ready for an adventure?”

“The challenge is on,” the father said.

The mother handed me her menu, and with that, they handed me control of their evening.

I alerted the Sous Chef, who was in the middle of plating a 22-person dinner. He quickly arranged for another chef to send out some snack dishes for the table until he was freed up to concentrate on them. I brought out the snack. The 22 dinners went out, and Sous Chef Trevor got down to business. He made them a second, vegetable snack that included a truffled dwarf peach for each of them. (They’re phenomenal!) foieThen he sent out foie gras with chardonnay gelee, followed by an ash-rind goat cheese and local dandelion honey. I explained all of the flavors to the guests, who couldn’t get over the combinations.

By the time I brought them a second round of drinks, they were gushing to me about how much fun they were having. They admitted that they’d spent the entire day at the [Mayo] Clinic, enduring rounds of tests and questions, with few answers. It had been stressful to say the least. This dinner adventure was their reaction to that stress—they wouldn’t make any more decisions, wouldn’t choose anything, but preferred to settle back to be pleasantly surprised.scallops

As I brought out caramelized scallops and brioche bread pudding, followed by smoked duck breast, followed by pork belly and carrot-ginger waffle with anise syrup, the guests were in heaven. pork bellyThey marveled at the flavors and thanked me profusely. They admitted they’d thrown down a challenge to the Chef, and he’d answered the call.

At one point, the father marched himself into the kitchen when I wasn’t looking and introduced himself to the kitchen staff. After that, Sous Chef Trevor sent the table a stack of Korean BBQ ribs and pickled mushrooms.

During dessert—a slate filled with chocolate, homemade caramel, toasted meringue, baked Alaska, and Italian sponge cake filled with pistachio semi-freddo and Chantilly cream, the guests asked me to buy a drink for the Chef and his staff, anything they wanted.

With that, Sous Chef Trevor and the Chef beside him, his brother Joel–who were manning the kitchen by themselves at this point–both came out to talk to the table. They all chatted together for a good fifteen minutes.

When the Chefs returned to the kitchen, I brought the check. The daughter told me, “This is the first time all day that I forgot how miserable we were. Being here, eating dinner, I felt like we were healthy, happy people again. Normal people, having dinner. Thank you so much!”

This was the compliment of a lifetime. It took me a moment before I could respond. “It was entirely our pleasure,” I managed to say.

“Thank you,” her mother and father said in unison.

“Thank you,” I said, “For giving us a chance to do what we do.”

I wished them well as they left that night. I hoped the Clinic would get to the bottom of the situation quickly, and grant them leave to return home. The bittersweet irony of serving in the shadow of the Mayo Clinic is that if these guests were to come in again, that would only mean they were still stuck here, still awaiting answers as they dealt with being poked and prodded. As much as I’d love to help distract them again, and as much as I’d love to just see them again, the best news for them would be that I don’t.

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