The 10-story Omelette
Yet another tale from our first tiny restaurant, located in front of a huge building that was under construction at the time.
One bright morning, the boss from the 10th floor ended up at our doorstep. And our waitress, who was quite on the ball, perked up when she saw the buckaroo sitting on a stool at the corner of the counter. The featherweight man, with a powdery complexion, moved his dull mane of hair in a strange fashion in an attempt to read the words scribbled on a sign. He was looking for an omelette, and when he opened his mouth to order, his voice was so soft that Marie hesitated several times before answering.
- “We have three kinds of omelettes, Sir. And don’t bother looking, I forgot to get the morning papers again.”
- “With cheese and roasted potatoes,” the client declared. “And with a hot chocolate because I don’t want to be shivering when I walk along the 10th floor beams.”
Our capricious Marie was immediately besotted with this construction cowboy. Always ready to light up a smile on a newcomer’s face, she entertained him by recounting the escapades of his electrician coworkers, and without me knowing, juicy stories about the firemen.
From one day to the next, Antoine and his crew of bricklayers became regulars at the 10:30 break. They sat at the big round table at the front, calm and pliant, a demeanor well suited to working up high. From my spot at the back of the kitchen, I could observe them, like large birds clinging carefully to the parapet of a cornice, with barely a squawk.
One Saturday afternoon around 2 p.m., Antoine showed up at the diner and spoke to me for the very first time. He had to work overtime because the foreman of the Laduco building had noticed a suspicious expense for asbestos sheets in the elevator shafts. Antoine spent the entire morning going over his men’s history and defending his crew’s integrity, whom he had known for 8 years.
- “Madam Cora, would you accuse your waitress when you don’t have enough flour to make your crêpe batter? That’s just going too far!”
From deep within this man came a sudden combative vigour intensified with the indignation of trampled rights. I listened to him, grateful that at that moment the diner was deserted. As empty, in fact, as the stomach of this cowboy, who was now asking for an omelette. I set to work as the man shared with me a few fragments of his life, how much he appreciated his workmates, his home in the suburbs and his favourite pastime. I was prompted to guess what it was.
I hesitated, not sure what to say.
- “Ma’am, I’m like you, I love to cook.”
And the worker began to reel off the recipe for his greatest creation.
- “I grab whatever is in the fridge: ham, bacon, sausages that I slice into rounds, and even baloney when my wife agrees to buy some. Onions, chunks of tomato, pepper, cream and cheese for grating on top of the omelette, which I serve on the biggest plate from the buffet. I crack four or five large eggs in the salad bowl and I whisk them all together. I then add the meat which I’ve cut into slivers and sautéed with the vegetables. I add the cream, pepper – because I don’t eat anything that hasn’t been peppered – and I pour everything into Grandma Josiane’s big cast iron skillet. Next I wait, while I fill up the coffee pot and make 7 or 8 pieces of toast. Then I call to my wife to get out of bed.”
- “And we eat the best omelette in the world, with all due respect, Madam Cora.”
- “Ah! I forgot, I sometimes add some fresh spinach when my Carmela hasn’t used all of it up for her darn Hollywood diet. It’s not like she’s ever going to make movies. But on Saturdays, you can count on her cheating. She just can’t resist my omelette. And I guarantee you, that if you were to serve this omelette in your restaurant, the guys would be rolling on the floor. Just saying.”
The man, lost in his culinary passion, hadn’t noticed that behind the counter, as he listed off the ingredients, I was adding them to a large bowl with the eggs, cream and spinach leaves. When I had placed the beautiful omelette in front of him, smothered in extra-strong cheese, the man was moved enough to shower me with affection, for I reminded him of his mother, who was constantly doing things to bring others happiness.
- “Call your omelette “OMELETTE DIX ÉTAGES”,* in honour of the guys from the Sainte-Marthe masonry, who’ve been working themselves to the bone re-grouting all the walls on the Laduco’s 10th floor.”
- “I promise, Antoine. And those who don’t know our story will likely think that the name refers to the 10 ingredients in the omelette. Thanks so much for the wonderful recipe.”
And that’s how many of the fabulous ideas for the breakfast dishes featured on our menu found their way into my kitchen. By listening, by getting to know my customers and by wanting to do things that brought them happiness.
*This is the omelette’s original French name, which literally translates as “10-story omelette.”