There is a complex equation in the creation of a vibrant dining room filled with happy patrons.
There is the view and acoustics and lighting.
Early on in the Bistro story I realized that we had to bring the beautiful view inside.
I needed mirrors.
I also needed cash for the mirrors.
I was meeting a charming and handsome couple who were about to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary. We were discussing a private celebration.
Mary and Mac were still very much in love.
Mac wanted a blowout. Mary was more reserved.
We had settled on a price to close the Bistro for a five course dinner for fifty guests.
I suggested that we serve a Café Diablo as a flourished finish. No extra charge.
I had learned something of Café Diablo in New Orleans.
It is the ultimate flaming coffee.
It requires that the performer carve a long peel from an orange, stud the peel with cloves and then stab the peel onto the orange with a long serving fork so that the studded peel hangs from the orange.
With the forked orange in one hand the performer pours flaming brandy from a goose neck ladle held high above the orange down onto the orange.
The flaming brandy then rolls over the orange and onto and down the peel (long flame) and then hits the hot bowl and bursts into flame.
Everyone goes “Ooo…ahhh”.
And the performer repeats and repeats until there is a continuous river of flame from the ladle into the cauldron of flaming brandy.
Spectacular, tasty and a tad dangerous.
As I explained it Mac became enthused. Mary showed reluctance.
Mary said, “I don’t know. It feels like we are gilding the lily.”
Mac then said something that became ever more profound for me over all the years since.
He said, “Mary, Sean is in the business of gilding lilies.”
And I realized that I was, and looking back now, I know that I have been.
Mary agreed to the Café Diablo. As we finished the arrangements Mary asked “What are you going to do with the money?’
I said, “I am going to buy mirrors for this wall.”
The dinner was a big success. Mary glowed and Mac watched her glow and loved her even more.
At the end of the evening I set up the bowl and the orange and the fork and the peel.
I was excited at the chance to show off my first Diablo.
I began to pour the flaming brandy down over the orange.
I soon learned that there is a trick to holding the orange.
It is best to hold the fork and orange downward from your hand so that the flaming brandy flows down away from your hand.
If you hold the forked orange above your hand the flaming brandy does not flow down onto the peel and into the bowl it flows down to the fork and then along the fork onto your hand and then up your sleeve and across your chest.
People don’t go “Oooo…Ah” when the flame explodes into the bowl they go “Holy Shit…!” when your shirt catches fire.
The wait staff proved adept at putting out the flames.
I shifted my hold to downward orange and began again.
All ended well.
I bought mirrors for the wall and whenever Mary and Mac celebrated their anniversaries with us they sat at Table Fifteen, in the corner by the mirrors.
Mac would always thumb the little brass plaque that I put there.
“For Mary and Mac. In gratitude for the mirrors.”
Mary passed on just before their seventy-fifth anniversary. Mac followed her a few weeks later.
Sometimes I just sit in that corner, feeling that I am sitting with them still, grateful for the mirrors, grateful that I got to be witness to a great love, and grateful to Mac, who taught me something about myself and my love of gilding lilies.