Damien Brisbane was the star in his world of making or breaking restaurants. Yes, he was the dreaded food critic. One of the worlds most feared creatures. He lurks, he lunges, he tastes, and he kills, he then moves on and kills some more. If you want your restaurant to be catapulted into success, everything down to the toothpicks better be in pristine condition when he arrives.
His nutty process of evaluation sometimes involved ritualistic routines. My favorite was the time when he stripped down to his tighty-whities before trying the ghost pepper stew, stating that he didn't want to get his clothes all sweaty. That stew had a bad reputation for sending even the most cast-ironed stomachs to the ER. But Damien survived, and all he had to do was walk around with swollen lips the size of bratwurst for the next few days after.
Welcome to a day in the life of Damien Brisbane AKA Neutron. We called him that because he could drop a verbal bomb like no other.
At the time, Damien had to be about 40 years old. I don't think he ever married or had any kids. Can't imagine what kind of father he would be, always critiquing you no matter what you do. He had bad posture, bad manners and could eat like there was no tomorrow. Nevertheless, he was well-respected in the food & beverage industry, receiving top honors for his accurate descriptions and superior knowledge of food.
Back in 2008, I worked as a server at Hamlin's, a five-star joint in the heart of Atlanta. Damien was a regular customer, probably because he lived nearby. He wasn't always there to give us a review, but it didn't matter. As soon as you saw him walk through the door, everything became tense. The whole vibe of the evening turned sour for the employees.
No one ever wanted to wait on him, so our boss came up with a solution. He called it Atomic Bingo. The entire wait staff was given a number and its multiples. A random number generator created the number and all you could do was hope and pray you were spared the gauntlet of shame. I was used to him and his belittling ways. I've seen him make girls cry out the door and never come back.
This particular night was cold, the restaurant was practically a ghost town; only lacking the occasional tumbleweed passing by. I lost at Bingo that night. I didn't worry too much about it; there was a winter storm warning going in effect that evening. No one wanted to be caught in the blustery snow... except, Neutron of course. The hostess silently laughed at me while she walked him to my section. I rolled my eyes as a hint of sweat began to form on the back of my neck.
It was just my luck that he was there as a critic. I knew because he always brought his own engraved napkins and sets his cute little green note pad down on the table to take notes. Talk about a buzzkill; it was going to be a very long night. The manager on duty pulled me to the side and asked,
"Are you good? can you handle this? Let me know now so we don't get fucked!"
He looked up from me and smiled at a patron walking by who heard the last part of his sentence. She made a weird face and hurried past us.
"I got this! Plus, I get a guaranteed 20% tip every time he dines as a critic!"
The manager was satisfied and left me to prepare myself. He alerted everyone to be on top of their game.
I showed up at Mr. Brisbane's table with a bottle of his favorite red and presented it to him.
"Very good son!" he said as he grabbed the bottle out of my hand and began reading the label. "You're getting good at this...except! I won't be drinking tonight! Are trying to get me killed when I leave here in the blizzard that's coming...Take it back! And what was your name again?"
"It's Josh, I mean, Joshua, sir."
"Funny... You don't look Irish... anyway, I'll have a Shirley Temple, an orange juice and a glass of water."
I had to bite down hard as I could on my teeth to prevent my facial expression from creating a smile. He might have known a thing or two about food but didn't know shit about people.
Whenever he came to write a review, he ordered two items from each section of the menu. The food was rolling out nicely, things were okay. Up to that point, he had only spit out the crab beignet which prompted a lengthy scribble on his note pad. Finally, the entrees hit the table. He ordered one of the newest items on the menu the chef called, South Beach. It was a play on surf-n-turf with braised prawns wrapped in fennel atop a saffron seasoned pork cutlet which was atop of steamed broccolini. The entire dish was then topped with some type of sauce that was supposed to be out of this world. Several of us including the head chef watched him take a bite, then another. He began nodding his head like he was enjoying it. I walked up and asked,
"How is everything tonight, Mr. Brisbane? I see the South Beach came out as you ordered, did you enjoy it?" My peripheral detected motions coming from behind him. Some of the staff were waving their arms, shaking their heads and giving me the cutthroat signal. The manger put his index finger to his lips, gesturing for me to be quiet. My restaurant smile went away. I had quickly forgotten to never ask him food questions while he was in judgement mode. Like I said before, it was going to be a very long night. Silence ensued. He wiped his mouth with one of his napkins and took a drink of water. Everyone's eyes were full of suspense as we all knew he was going to answer my question.
"It was good. I really liked it!" Everyone relaxed in unison. "As soon as I got past the amazing smell of spicy dog VOMIT that singed the hair in my nose and cleared my sinuses, I dug into the exquisitely burnt roadkill you call a cutlet! It was drenched in some kind of oily, whale pus that had a grit to it that I just can't quite put my finger on. And the prawns... Oh, the prawns. The poor, sad creatures must have had a bad day or a BAD FREEZE because they were as fresh as the MUCH-NEEDED DUMP I'M GOING TO TAKE WHEN I GET HOME! --- other than that, I think it was fine."
He went back to reading his notes and tried the next entree. Everyone stood there looking like the ‘WOW’ emoji 😮. Their eyes cautiously angled toward the chef. He interrupted the dead silence when he broke his phone in half and stormed back to the kitchen. I literally lost it. I ran away laughing. It was the best belly laugh of the year. I was kind of sorry for my behavior but what he said about that dish hit my funny bone in just the right way. It took several minutes to recover in the break room. I knew I was in trouble for initiating the chain of events, but I didn't care. I think it was better to know then, than to read about it a week later in his blog or his monthly feature in Fine Dining magazine.
I will never forget Damien 'Neutron' Brisbane. He was a one-of-a-kind, critical twerp who just happened to be a successful phenom in his field. I wish someone had video of that night; it was truly a priceless moment.
Thank you as always, for stopping by 😍
About the Creator
Creative writer in the Northeast US who loves the paranormal, mystery, true crime, horror, humor, fantasy and poetry. Take a chance, you'll be thoroughly entertained.
"Life is Love Experienced" -LW
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