King of the Maitre D's: Secrets of almost fifty years inside the famous Imperial Room of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel (April 30, 2007)
by Dean Tudor
King of the Maitre D's: Secrets of almost fifty years inside the famous Imperial Room of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel (Rain Publishing, 2007, 208 pages, ISBN 978-1-897381-06-9, $36.99 hard covers) is by Louis Janetta, the former Maitre d' of the Imperial Room. Minor conflict of interest disclaimer: my mother was a friend of Louis from the old days, when he was but a mere Captain in the Imperial Room...
This is an interesting read. Most memoirs in foodland seem to come from chefs and hospitality writers (wine, food, travel). Rarely do we see a front-of-house memoir, although there are the occasional books authored by owners. Here, Louis recounts his early life in Italy, his immigration to Toronto at the age of seven, his tough growing up period in the Dirty Thirties, and his first real job: busboy at the Royal York in 1942 (he lied about his age: he should have been 16, but he was actually 14). As the book says, "Ironically, most of his life would be spent in the first building he'd seen [i.e. the Royal York] when he walked out of Union Station at seven years old."
His style is anecdotal, with stories of staff who got into snits and threw trays, crap games and card games, eating on the job and shrinkage. He has details about the 20 to 30 semi-residents who had permanent rooms and ate almost daily in the hotel. He has a multitude of stories about celebrities, but very little to say on Gino Emprey except "many differences" and even that was written after Gino passed on. There must be more to this story...
Many of his thoughts have been grouped by type of act; hence, all the big bands are together, the groups, the female singers, the male singers, the comics, the movie stars, the politicians and royalty. He gave Zoltan Szabo, Toronto's hottest sommelier, his first job (dishwasher) at a time when Zoltan spoke no English.
Louis moved on to SkyDome in 1990 and began writing his memoirs (originally slated for publication by McClelland and Stewart), and then he opened his own restaurant. Throughout the book there are tips on how to be a bus boy, a waiter, a captain, a room server, and a maitre d', almost like a training manual.
Audience and level of use: Curious food readers, industry workers, hospitality schools looking for job insights.
Some interesting or unusual facts: "Everybody did it. I used to eat ice cream when nobody was looking. But the personnel manager came by one day and saw me eating a baked potato. My punishment was to leave room service and go back to the Imperial Room."
The downside to this book: It still needs some editing for tightness, polish, and focus, but then here it is, warts and all. There are some spelling errors ("Mervish", "McLelland") and knowledge errors (he or somebody calls this book a "novel" on p. 113). Also, the layout has no margins or gutters, leaving a long line of type to read. The lack of a name index is frustrating, for it is impossible to read what Louis has to say about people without flipping through the book.
The upside to this book: Lots of photos and details about celebrities, especially Tony Bennett.
Quality/Price Rating: 87.
Available from www.rainbooks.com.