On their blog, the husband-and-wife team have posted a bite-by-bite break down of our dinner together at Almaz, and I think, between our two pieces, you get a good idea of what to expect with the Gondar service. Their recap, in particular, includes one moment that I had wanted to write about, too (but ran out of space!):
We made a tactical error when our servers came by to inquire about what we enjoyed most: we answered. In short order, we found ourselves facing another helping of each of our favorite dishes. Next time, we’ll know to keep quiet – or offer our compliments with an apology that we’re too full for seconds.
This was an awkward moment for us at the table, but once I talked to Jabriel Ballentine, the man who created Gondar for Almaz, I learned that it was just part of the hospitality required of the host. If guests in an Ethiopian Orthodox home say they like a particular dish or dishes, you, as host, are practically required to bring them more. Otherwise, you would be failing to serve and thus, in a sense, abandoning your religious beliefs.
This is where, I thought, the economics of a traditional restaurant would clash with the religious tenets behind the Gondar service. I suggested to Ballentine that overserving your guests, night after night with Gondar, would create enormous amounts of waste. Waste, of course, is anathema to restaurant owners.
I asked Ballentine if Gondar could sustain itself over the weeks and months with such waste. The host just paused, smiled at my question, and told me politely that wastage is built into the cost of the meal.
Spoken like a man who knows how to balance religion with economics.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery