Thursday, February 2, 2012


For decades El Cornadi was the premiere restaurant catering to Hollywood's elite. The original owners, Mario and Maria Vesponi, had built the restaurant to resemble exactly the country church in Cornadi, Italy where they had been married. They even went so far as to have clippings of the ivy that grew up its walls shipped to Hollywood. Exact replicas of the art and stained glass windows from the church's interior were  commissioned and installed at great expense to the Vesponi family. Inside the restaurant, heavy medieval-looking wooden tables, surrounded by seating which vaguely reminded patrons of church pews, were spread out between the grand columns. Modified confession booths, illuminated by candle light, allowed for intimate dinners for two. No one could say exactly if the restaurant was designed as an homage to the Vesponi's Catholic roots, or if it was intended to be slightly sacreligious. People tended to see in the restaurant what they wanted to see. One local newspaper called Mario Vesponi "The Pope of fine dining" and his restaurant "a temple to the gods of food." Another critic quipped "It was convenient to have a confession booth handy after being enticed by Mario and Maria into the sin of gluttony." Vesponi himself was a member of the local Catholic parish and frequently allowed the church to use his restaurant for fundraisers and other special occasions, often at no charge. On Christmas Eve, the Vesponi's were famous for opening their restaurant to the area homeless who ate for free. El Cornadi specialized in rustic Italian food- simple and satisfying- but the ambiance and elegant surroundings lent a certain mystique to the dining experience which transcended the mere act of eating. As the restaurant's fame spread, Hollywood's elite began to notice, and before long El Cornadi was the place for the who's who of  Hollywood to gather, except on Christmas Eve of course.

Pablo Martine had worked at El Cornadi since he was 15 years old. He started out as a bus boy and dishwasher in the iconic restaurant's kitchen before becoming a waiter. He would eventually rise to become the chief waiter, a post he held until his death at 65. As chief waiter he had the privilege of waiting on some of the most famous men and women in the world. Occasionally even heads of state and world leaders would dine at El Cornadi. Pablo would stand against the wall next to a statue of the virgin Mary, hands behind his back, staring straight ahead, at attention. The patrons who he was serving would forget he was there until they needed something. In the 47 years that Pablo waited on tables he kept a little known secret. He possessed an amazingly accurate memory. At the end of his shift he would document the events of the night- everyone he waited on, what they ordered, as well as what they talked about. He had begun this practice to better familiarize himself with his regulars. He believed in doing his job with excellence. So he would pour over his notes studying the people who he served. Often times a guest would return for the first time and be surprised that Pablo remembered exactly what they had ordered and what they preferred to drink from their last visit even though that had been months, even years ago. "Will you be having the Tortellini a la Panna again, or would you like to try something else tonight?" He would also keep abreast of who was feuding with who and made sure they were seated well away from each other. Everyone felt like a regular within a visit or two. Pablo remembered everything, and it made the El Cornadi's guests feel as important as they imagined themselves. He remembered the names of wives and mistresses alike but never confused the two. He was a huge part of the restaurant's success. He was also the proverbial fly on the wall to many private moments and conversations.

Before long his notes began to extend far beyond merely what the guests ordered. Soon he was neurotically recording entire conversations which covered the mundane as well as the juiciest tid-bits of Hollywood gossip, sometimes even state secrets and criminal confessions were included in his notes. No event or conversation eluded his steel-trap memory or documentation. At the close of his shift he would go home to his small efficiency apartment on Palm View Avenue and habitually, almost compulsively, type out his recollections.  Occasionally he would refer to handwritten notes he had collected over the course of his shift. Most often he wrote mechanically, simply chronicalling the conversations and minutiae of the night. At other times he would depart from the style of a historian concerend only with recording facts and would write with a surprisingly elegant touch about en event he had witnessed or what someone was wearing that night. He was a good writer.

Over the 47 years Pablo served as a waiter at the El Cornadi his extensive collection grew. He had neatly organized his writings by month and year in loose-leaf binders. They represented his life's work and they filled his apartment until he was forced to rent storage space to house it all. A separate booklet contained a handwritten list of the names of his various guests. There were very few newsmakers who did't eventually dine within earshot of Pablo. For easy reference he had neatly entered next to their names the dates they had come to the restaurant. Before heading home he would take a copy of the next day's reservations, and after typing out his notes that night he would drive across town to his storage unit so that he could reacquaint himself with each guest's history. The storage unit was lined with floor-to-ceiling book cases, and in the middle of the floor there was an overstuffed leather chair, a lamp and a small table. On the table sat a photo album containing pictures of Pablo with sports figures, busness leaders, playboy bunnies, movie stars, musicians, and political figures.

Pablo never took a vacation. He never bought a house. He never married, and he had no family. Toward the end of his life, as he was dying from stage-four colon cancer, he drew up a will donating his life savings of $1, 500,000.00 to a local Catholic charity, and he willed the contents of storage unit #54 to Samantha Waters, a celebrity biographer and gossip writer who was known to occasionally dine at El Cornadi. In fact, in 2007 she had dined at El Cornadi with a baseball player with whom she was having an affair. She would be surprised and ashamed to find Pablo's mercilessly accurate account of their dinner. That page would forever go missing from Pablo's official record, a sinful act of desecration which would have killed the old waiter if he had still been alive to witness it. Waters was less kind to the other people mentioned in Pablo's writings. She would eventually write a book entitled "Dish," which served up the juiciest and most sensational of Pablo's memories to a public which had forgotten how to blush.  It instantly surged to the top of the NYT's best seller list and served as the basis for the Hollywood blockbuster, "Pablo."

1 comment:


Pablo described in some detail what Ms. Waters wore on her date, a black strapless dress, and summarized his obsrvations on the black dress by musing, "Perhaps she was preemptivley mourning the imminent demise of her marriage."