Phoebe Damrosch

How To Raise A Four-Star Baby

[The Amateur Gourmet is on vacation and, while he’s gone, he’s asked his friends to cover for him. Today’s post comes from Phoebe Damrosch, author of Service Included, a book that Adam loved. Phoebe and her husband, Andre Mack, both of whom worked at Per Se, are recent parents and this is Phoebe’s account of raising a four-star baby.]

You know you’re food-obsessed when you go into labor and your first thought is “I should go to the farmer’s market now, before these contractions get any stronger.” So, two Saturdays ago, I roused my husband, grabbed the dog, and waddled the five blocks to our local market, stopping every few minutes to lean against a tree and moan. We stocked up on the deep summer bounty – peaches, blueberries, tomatoes, basil – knowing that we’d be curled up at home for the next few days. A few hours later, our son Finnegan was born in our kitchen. Not long after that, we were eating peaches on the couch, wondering whether they were really going to let us keep him.

When you’re expecting a baby, everyone warns you that your life is about to change. They are right of course, but not only in the ways that one would imagine – sleepless nights, endless laundry, etc. What I noticed right away was that I had suddenly moved to Sesame Street. Until this point, I had often felt like an intruder in the historically African-American, increasingly African, quickly-gentrifying neighborhood. But overnight, my feeling about the place changed. Suddenly the people who make up my world – in my case a world revolving around food – were cooing over the baby, hugging me, and telling me about their own children. Neighbors introduced themselves when I sat on the stoop in the evenings and stopped to chat in the grocery store.

During our first week together, I took Finn on the rounds, narrating all the way: here’s the Senegalese bakery with the killer coffee and almond croissant; these are the red velvet cupcakes that your mama has been eating for the last nine months and now sincerely regrets; this is our wine shop; this is Carlos, the world sweetest health food store owner; this is the best Ethiopian restaurant in the city; and this is the 24-hour deli where you’ll (hopefully not) buy your first beer and cigarettes.

When Adam wrote asking whether I would write a guest post on the blog, he suggested that I talk about “How to Raise a Four-Star Baby.” I think the first step is to give birth in a kitchen, if only so that later you can utter phrases like “what do you mean you won’t do the dishes – you were BORN in a kitchen!” or “what do you mean you don’t eat vegetables – you were born in a KITCHEN!” Of the next step, I’m not so sure. We’ve been holding garlic, tarragon, and Oregon Pinot up to Finnegan’s nose, imagining the neurons multiplying. Four-star or no, the people he meets, the foods he smells, the sound of the Mister Softie truck driving by – a world is taking shape. And I am doing my best to make it a delicious one.

Southern Harlem highlights for munchkins of all ages:

Les Ambassades (almond croissants, mango and ginger juices, cafe au lait)

2200 Frederick Douglass @ 119th St.

Make My Cake (red velvet cake)

121 St Nicholas @116th St.

Zoma (Ethiopian cuisine)

2084 Frederick Douglass @113th St.

Harlem Vintage (friendly neighborhood wine store)

2235 Frederick Douglass @ 121st St.

On Phoebe Damrosch’s “Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter”


It takes a great deal to make me burst out laughing in the middle of a coffee shop. First of all, I suffer from some social anxiety: I don’t like to make a spectacle of myself (unless I’m making horror movies on the internet) and I often give dirty looks to those who carry on obnoxious cell phone conversations or cackle loudly as I try to write my memoirs while sipping frothy cappuccinos. But yesterday, as I finished Phoebe Damrosch’s fantastic new book “Service Included,” I broke out of character and burst out laughing. It happened on page 179 and it may be the most shocking sentence I’ve yet encountered in a food book. I can’t repeat it here nor, for that matter, can I repeat it anywhere: it’s filthy. It’s something a customer says to Phoebe when she’s a captain at Per Se, one of New York’s (if not the country’s) most illustrious and renowned restaurants. The context alone would make any irreverent comment hilarious, but this particular one–well, I’ll let you get there yourself. It still makes me laugh just thinking about it.

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