Breaking Glass and Setting Cheese on Fire, OPA!

by Emily Jasper on March 11, 2010

When I was a waitress, I worked in a Mediterranean restaurant that was owned by a couple of Greek families. They were trying to bring together the loud, large family atmosphere with fine dining. Special events would have belly dancers, and we would light food on fire on a regular basis. Even though I thought I was a smart cookie, I was a little intimidated. I was so nervous that I doubted myself.

This is the worst thing you can ever do.

One of my first banquet shifts had a champagne toast, and we had to move flutes from the front bar to the back room. I was still having issues balancing trays so I put the flutes on their sides so I could avoid breaking them. The manager saw me and said, “No, stand them up, you’ll get more on the tray.” I did what she said, and turned to go on my way.


At least eight of the flutes fell off the tray, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was mortified, but worse, I was upset that I didn’t stick with my own common sense. I knew I wasn’t going to balance the tray. Why did I do the opposite?

From that moment on, I decided to not only listen to myself, but to fully commit. I managed to break four or five of those heavy pint glasses after a kid ran into me. Instead of stopping and turning a bright shade of red, I threw my tray into the air and yelled, “OPA!”

It turned out that committing was more necessary than I originally thought.

We had a dish called Saganaki, which is a style of cooking a cheese that gets served en flambé. After picking up the searing hot dish from the pass, you end up standing in front of a table, lighter in hand, and praying you aren’t going to end up with singed eyebrows. You need to get the brandy on, light it fast (the dish is so hot, you don’t want the alcohol cooked off), and then after the flames touch the ceiling, you bring them down with squeezed lemon.

Did I mention you might lose your eyebrows?

If you’re afraid of the fire, you’ll probably smell burned hair. I’ve seen it happen. If you’re nervous, you hold the dish closer to your body and lean forward too much. Insecurity turns into actual danger. When you make it part of the show, you lean back, put the flames on display, and you get to keep your eyebrows.

There are times when you need to trust your gut, and you really need to commit.

What are your stories of breaking glasses and lighting cheese on fire? How did you know doubting yourself wasn’t going to serve you? When did you find committing made all the difference?

Photo credit (and yes, that’s what flaming Saganaki looks like, Opa!)