What Panna Cotta Has Taught Me

Oh, panna cotta, why do you hurt me so?

Panna cotta is a dessert from northern Italy made of cream, sugar, milk and gelatin that is simmered and then cooled into a delicious custard-like substance that is usually topped with fresh berries or a chocolate or caramel sauce. I have had it many times in my life but until last week I had never tried to sell it as a special. Each moment that it became time for me to announce the dessert specials, I rattled them off with ease.

“Tonight we have a flourless chocolate cake that is served with warm chocolate sauce and topped with fresh whipped cream and raspberries. We also have a banana bread pudding that is served warm with a scoop of house-made vanilla ice cream and a salted caramel sauce. Finally, I have for you this evening a panna cotta served with a blueberry coulis and fresh strawberries and then garnished with a sprig of mint. If I liked one more than the other I would recommend it, but I truly adore all three of them. What can I get for you tonight?”

(To Anon, who thinks I am an asshole and I am rude to customers’ faces, please note how professional I fucking sound.)

My first several tables all make their decisions with ease.

“Oh, let’s get the chocolate cake and split it!”

“Oh my God, banana bread pudding with salted caramel sauce?? Yes, please!”

“My New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. I’ll just take the check.”

It isn’t until mid-way through my shift that someone gives me pause.

“What’s panna cotta?”

Now, had I already looked up the clear and concise definition of panna cotta that I offered at the top of this blog post, all would be fine. However,  I did not have my phone on me, for it against the rules to have a cell phone on the floor which is why mine was safely stored on the top shelf over the coffee maker and under a napkin so I had easy access to send out random tweets, play Words With Friends and take the occasional photo.

(“Aha!! Unprofessional asshole,” shouts Anon.)

I quickly realize that although I have eaten panna cotta on several occasions and kinda know what it is, I do not have a good description of it that I can simply spout out.

“Panna cotta is a… it’s a custard, but it’s different. Ummm, do you know what flan is? No? Well, it’s a little bit like flan but different… It has a gelatin in it, I know that, but it’s not like it’s Jello or anything. It’s really good. Panna cotta is um…um…”

And then come the words that no one should ever use when describing panna cotta or any other dessert for that matter.

“It’s like a gelatinous pudding.”

I see the faces at table 16 recoil in horror at the the thought of a pudding that is of the gelatinous nature. Honestly, would you order a dessert that has the word “gelatinous” attached to it? Of course not. They probably are picturing a pudding that has sat in the sun for two days and is lumpy and indigestible. Wikipedia defines gelatin as “a translucent, colorless, brittle, flavorless solid substance, derived from collagen obtained from various animal by-products. It is commonly used as a gelling agent in food, pharmaceuticals, photography, and cosmetic manufacturing.” Yes, sign me up for a big heaping bowl of gelatinous pudding, please.

Needless to say, they opted out of the deliciousness that is panna cotta, all because of my lousy description of it.

(Get a new job, loser! You suck! -Anon)

They decide to skip dessert all together and I would not be surprised if they hurried home to throw up their dinner having now imagined a giant bowl of gelatinous pudding. As soon as they are gone, I hurry to my cell phone to look up the definition of panna cotta so I can describe it correctly next time. I also use that moment to take a picture of an ugly baby that has made a mess with some crackers.

I learned three things that night. Number one: just because I have eaten something does not mean I know how to describe it so it sounds appetizing to my guests. Number two: don’t assume that everyone is going to know what every dessert is. Number three: when taking a picture of an ugly baby who has made a mess, make sure the flash is turned off. Awkward…

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15 thoughts on “What Panna Cotta Has Taught Me

  1. David Fulk

    The first time a waiter offered me Pot De Creme for dessert I looked at him like he was out of his mind. "A pot of cream!?" I said incredulously. He put a hand on my shoulder and said sympathetically "It's like pudding, dear." My husband was drinking iced tea and did a classic spit take. They both laughed as I wiped off the side of my face…

  2. Rogue Wino

    It's funny, panna cotta is on our regular dessert menu, and even knowing what it is, I'm always at a loss for how to describe it. I usually say "It's like a custard" or "it's custard minus the egg" but really, it's freaking jello with cream. How do you make creamy jello sound remotely good??? Still, panna cotta is amazing, so I force them to try it 😛

  3. astonished

    I honestly have the hardest time describing dishes, let alone making them sound appealing. I probably say the shit you said tonight just about every night. That's why when people want a recommendation, I memorized a description I made for one dish and told every table to buy it, until one day last week some idiot in the marketing department decided to feature it on the table tents. Now I need to think of a new description or just risk looking lazy and uncreative by copying the table tent. By the way, your posts are too funny. I try to read your new posts daily. I wish I worked with you – the people I work with all seem to care so little about there jobs that they don't even notice the annoying things that people always do. I work in Mexican so we always get old white people ordering free tortillas with butter, and the weird thing is I'm the only one who seems to get annoyed when this happens.

  4. Mary A.

    What's panna cotta? Are you fucking NEW? Ever hear of the Food Netowork, Bitch?Sorry.Personally, I prefer creme brulee to panna cotta, but I think you handled it really well.

  5. Aquarili

    Not sure if you've seen this one, Bitchy. I apologize if I sent it to the wrong spot–wasn't sure where to send. Feliz A~no Nuevo! ADORO tu blog y tus cabellos! xoxo :)http://gawker.com/5974396/the-biggest-schmuck-on-earth-left-this-as-a-tip

  6. ...

    I quite literally laughed out loud at the last comment about the ugly baby. If you do forget to turn that flash off, just tell the mom you've never seen such a beautiful child and just had to snap a photo. She'll melt…and you'll have your hilarious pic. :o)

  7. Melanie Kate

    Loved this post because something similar happened to me. I recently was hired for a new job at a fine dining Italian restaurant this past summer, and one of the women at my table asked me to describe our lemon panna cotta.. but the dessert was right in front of her AND she had already taken a few bites. People are lovely, aren't they?

  8. anyname

    When I worked at Arby's in jr. high school, we had a new sandwich called the "Country Fried Steak Deluxe." My mom was a good cook, and I was never fed country fried steak. I didn't trust it. Well, I was working the drive-thru when a truck with a couple of regular customers placed their order. As instructed, I suggested the new food offering. "Welcome to Arby's, my name is Chris, would you care to try the NEW Country Fried Steak Deluxe?" "ummm, what is it?""It's lettuce, tomato, honey mayo and a piece of steak-like material."The two guys erupted in laughter, as did my manager, who was working the slicer and wearing a headset."That sounds great, we'll take two."They were hot guys to boot!!My manager was not pleased at my honest description. I said, "it's NOT really steak." "Yes it is" he replied….Bullshit. "Steak" at Arby's? I think not.

    1. Robert

      A store I worked at sold 3/4# chocolate flavored solid bunnies for Easter for $1.99. The key word here is “flavored”. It wasn’t chocolate, it was artificially flavored grease.

      I made it a point to tell everyone who came through my line, “Just so you know, this isn’t a chocolate Easter bunny, it’s chocolate flavored.” About half the people didn’t care and the other half went back and got an actual chocolate bunny.

      Arby’s steak indeed! Now I must try some panna cotta. I wonder if they have it at Burger King?


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