Visit to Centro (Field Trip!)

Most of my life is raising a family with Marc. And by that I mean most of my life is making messes and then cleaning up the messes, both literal and figurative.

And then sometimes I write novels, usually while wearing a bathrobe and a furrowed brow, which is only adding to The Wrinkle Issue. When I’m writing these novels in my robe and with my wrinkles, there is no glamour within a ten-mile radius. I do not sit by a roaring fire, I do not swirl a glass of sherry, and I do not wearing an ascot, though if I could find an ascot at Anthropologie, I’d probably want it because I am seem to have problems remembering to have any sort of self-control at that store.

So usually I’m alone and wrinkly when I work. But sometimes, once in the bluest of moons, I get to go on a field trip. This week I had the great pleasure of following around the intrepid restauranteur and chef, George Formaro, owner of so many of my favorite spots in Des Moines.

Chef George is the owner of Django (insane duck-fat fries), Gateway Market (um, French toast?!), Malo (tacos al pastor and chipotle shrimp tacos with house-made corn tortillas), Zombie Burger (wicked good burgers and the buns!), South Union Bread Cafe (all yum for lunch), and Centro (can’t pick a favorite. Honestly.).

The protagonist of my new novel is a chef, so I asked George if I might tag along and watch what he does. Because he’s super bored and doesn’t have enough to do (see previous paragraph), he said yes! So I watched, I learned, I peppered him with questions, and I got a parking ticket because I forgot about real life. I was in the Centro vortex and it was FASCINATING.

George is affable, a crazy hard worker, and he loves good food. He also thinks of his staff as family, which is pretty much bizarro in the restaurant business. Gordon Ramsay he is not.

He also doesn’t like to say no. For example, while I was there, a customer requested buffalo sauce. Centro doesn’t have buffalo sauce on its menu. No worries. George to the rescue. Just made the sauce, off the cuff, right in the middle of the noon rush. I’m slightly less accommodating of special orders in my own kitchen.

I wanted to eat everything but I was super professional and asked questions instead, questions like, “Can you walk by the end of a sixteen hour day?” (Answer: “No. I am a cripple.”) And “Does it offend you when people send a dish back to the kitchen?” (Answer: “No. It’s not about me; it’s about the customer. If a person leaves my restaurant unhappy, it pains me.” Note: This is exactly how I feel about my children complaining about my cooking. Exactly.) And “What’s a crazy special order you’ve received?” Answer: “A French guy ordering at Django asked for pasta with butter, ketchup and Parmesan cheese.” George made that dish for that weirdo, and he even said it was surprisingly not horrible. Because I am a professional, I maintained a pleasant expression on my face instead of saying unprofessional things about a doofus who goes to a French restaurant and orders ketchup noodles.

Ketchup nonwithstanding, George, his front-of-house manager Taylor, and the very delightful team at Centro were fantastic. They didn’t even gripe that I was standing in front of the water station for two hours during their lunch service. They seem to really enjoy their work. And even with a parking ticket as a souvenir, they made it great fun to do mine.

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