“In a very special and unusually personal blog piece on ‘Living with Style’, Marta bravely recounts the details of the day that lives in the minds of many of Snobsville’s elite, while simultaneously highlighting the importance of having a Butler’s Pantry.
It happened on a Wednesday. I remember it well because I had come straight from my weekly Mani Pedi. I had invited some friends over for a viewing of our new Butler’s Pantry. An acquaintance, Marley, was thinking of renovating and was deciding between a large kitchen dining area and a chef’s kitchen with Butler’s Pantry. Of course, for those of us who entertain frequently and consider themselves to be blessed with an eye for stylish elegance, there is no question. A large kitchen dining can be lovely for your own family, but its very limiting when organising fundraisers and planning school committee events. Besides, open plan is a little passé and very much belongs in last season’s house plans. And so, in hearing of Marley’s hesitation, I took it upon myself to educate the common folk on the merits of true kitchen style.
I had our house manager prepare some simple low salt gluten free sugarless tapas treats and prepared the home for visitors. If Marley was to get a true representation of how a Butler’s Pantry can change one’s life, (not to mention the help’s lives), the details of its presentation were of the utmost importance.
It truly is a wonder to me that people survive without a Butler’s Pantry. In practical terms, the mess from the staff’s meal preparations mustn’t tarnish the overall appeal of your home on event night. It is unseemly for guests to be staring at unclean dishes, or even at the kitchen staff as they wash up. Details, after all, are so important…”
I read Marta’s most recent column while indulging in an afternoon tipple at Caroline’s house. We were pouring over our renovation plans while the nannies picked up Aiden and Luke from school.
The day she was referring to was stuck in my own mind too. It was the day I realised I had become a full fledged Snob Bot and resolved to return, (at least mentally), to my Neplebean roots. It was the day Caroline has termed the Snobsville Apocalypse, and in one sense I agree. I was lucky to get out of there alive.
I had left the kids with Sharon and after a quick post drop off coffee with Caroline we headed over to Marta’s home. I have never felt entirely comfortable there, probably because it looks as if it has just been finished being cleaned and styled and I worry that I will break something or compliment the wrong shade of Hogbristle wall colouring. But Marta had overheard us the previous day at the Tennis Club discussing the plans for my new kitchen and was mortified that I couldn’t see the point of a Butler’s Pantry. In fact, I still don’t. But then, I suppose I don’t do much entertaining, or for that matter, cooking.
It was a cold morning that day and was beginning to rain quite heavily by the time we arrived. I was pondering to myself if I should look online for some more fashionable umbrella’s than the large orange golf umbrella Jason had stolen from a corporate golf day. As I approached Marta’s home in Lower Snobsville the wind picked up and was blowing such a gale that the umbrella was useless anyway, turning inside out on the short walk up to Marta’s sandstone steps and manicured edging. Despite taking considerable care with my hair that morning, (as opposed to the scruffy pony tail I usually sported), I was disappointed to arrive looking rather unkempt thanks to the wind.
“Hello Marley dear. Nice of you to come. You know, I have an excellent follicular specialist. He could do wonders with your hair. You know, the roots, and split ends. Colour and style. Just a few little things. I’ll email you his details.”
I smiled through the chagrin and mumbled a quick thank you, but Marta was not done. “Presentation is so important darling.” She continued as she ushered me through to the kitchen where she had set up a spread of finger food.
“Ladies, just so you know, there has been a severe storm warning. They are saying its going to be the worst storm in years. So you may want to inform your nannies that conditions will be treacherous at pick up this afternoon.”
Caroline looked out the window. “Yes I think you are right Marta.” She pointed to a mid size gum that was swaying furiously in Marta’s yard as a large branch fell in the middle of her lawn.
“Hmmm…” Marta looked pensive. “Help yourselves to tapas ladies, I will just make a note to add a small bonus for Gardener this week.” She smiled to herself as she typed quickly into her smart phone and added, “You know, I’ve never liked that gum tree. Perhaps the storm will do the work that council refuses to let us do ourselves! Natives are so last season.”
She put her phone on the kitchen bench, (she had a phone holder installed to match her Tasmanian Oak recipe book holder, which she had pointed out last time I had visited), and with a great deal of pomp and ceremony she opened a large set of French Doors with frosted glass panels to reveal her prized pantry.
“You see Marley? The cook – well in our case the house manager, because we prefer a streamlined approach to staffing – prepares meals in here so the kitchen out there remains sparkling clean.”
“But, it looks just like the one out there – I mean, the actual kitchen. It looks exactly the same. Couldn’t you just close off your kitchen?”
Marta sighed, showing great patience for my ignorance. She shut the door with emphasis. “Decentralised planning? No dear. That’s not in style at all. Besides, we do enjoy it when Natalie – that’s our house manager – makes gluten free sugar free egg free blueberry pancakes on a Sunday. It’s Tarquin’s favourite. And if she makes them in the pantry, the aroma is stifled. It’s so much cosier for us all to sit at the breakfast bar and chat while she makes breakfast. I don’t mind watching her cook and clean – I mean, we’re not total snobs!”
She giggled with laughter as Caroline and I exchanged a look which had come to replace my frequent eye rolls, which often got me into trouble in Snobsville. I smiled half heartedly, while Caroline raised her eyebrows imperiously.
Marta pushed on, blissfully unaware of our exchange. “You will note that I closed the door behind me. While the French Doors – yes, French Doors inside, stroke of genius, right? – while they purvey a homey provincial feel, they are also wired with temperature control and alarms so the food in here will remain at its freshest on the evening whether it is in the fridge or ready for being served. It’s just one of those little details that-“
Suddenly as Marta spoke the lights went out. “Must be the storm…” she mumbled with a furrowed brow. “Don’t worry, there is a back up generator on the property.” After a minute of all three of us standing in the dark waiting for light, she sighed angrily.
“Really! What in the world is going on? The storm couldn’t have timed it worse!”
Recognising the ridiculous nature of her words, and Marta’s utter ignorance of the fact that she couldn’t plan for or control the outcome of a storm, I made my way quietly to the door hoping to get some light.
It wouldn’t budge.
“Um, Marta? Are we on a security system or something? An electronic one?”
“Of course Marley. This house is wired to the hilt. There are a lot of expensive things in this house. I assume you haven’t invested in one yet? I have a guy who can help you out, I’ll email you his number. With the follicular specialist.”
“Uh, okay, but Marta, I think we’re stuck in here. The security system seems to have locked us in.”
“Oh God.” Caroline looked positively squeamish. Marta was pale.
“Oh no. The tapas! They’re out on the kitchen bench! Natalie worked for an hour on those! They’ll be ruined. You see Marley, that’s why the temperature control in here is so important.”
“Yeah, it’s also what locked us in.” Caroline was rummaging through cupboards. Marta was panicking. I was secretly wishing I was home in my ugh boots eating chocolate. Maybe Caroline would find some in the pantry.
“What? No, I planned for this! The back up generator-“
“It’s probably also been affected by the storm.”
“Well, I will be writing some emails about that tonight! Oh God no…”
“What?” From the look on Marta’s face it appeared that something was terribly wrong.
“My phone! I left it on the hand crafted Tasmanian Oak phone holder, next to the matching recipe book holder, on the kitchen bench!”
“Oh. That’s okay. I have mine.”
“Yes, but Marley dear, you don’t have Natalie’s phone number! Do you realise what this means? I have no access to my house manager!”
Caroline rummaged some more using her phone for light. “Well, you should have a word to her when you speak to her. You’re out of Prosecco! How could you let that happen?” I was hoping Caroline was kidding, but I sensed an edge in her voice that said she was part serious.
“Where are the glasses?”
Marta looked nauseous. “Oh. No crystal glasses in here. Only wine glasses, sorry, not champagne.” She pointed to a high cupboard. “But we don’t have a bottle opener.”
“That’s okay, I found champagne. No need for a bottle opener.”
“Oh God. Am I really drinking chilled champagne from a wine glass in a locked butler’s pantry?” I had never seen Marta’s facade crack. Well, except for the time Luke had broken into Tarquin’s Lego room. But this was much worse.
“It get’s worse dear. The fridge light is off. I don’t think the fridge is on. So…”
“Oh this is awful. Warm champagne. What’s next, will we be forced to eat non perishables?”
“Oh, do you have a tin opener? I found some tinned corn in there.”
“Its okay Marta, the storm can’t last forever.”
“I hope not.” In the soft light of our mobile phones I saw her close her eyes dramatically and clasp her hands together as if she was praying. Looking down at her entwined fingers, she sighed again. “Well, this day is just perfect. I’ve chipped my polish. Serena just finished my mani pedi not an hour ago and already there are imperfections! I’ll have to wait an entire week to have this seen to! Of course if I had my phone, I could see if she has any emergency bookings set aside.”
By this time Caroline and I were sitting on the floor drinking coolish champagne from what I now know was a wine glass. Caroline had a pack of bite size Kit Kats in her hands she opened and we gorged ourselves while Marta slid down the wall in disbelief.
“Really, Marta, someone will come looking for you at some point, won’t they? Like one of your nannies?”
“We call them tutors. My children do not need babysitting they need educational stimulus.”
“Yeah, tutors. Won’t they be looking for you after school pick up?”
“But that’s hours away!” She stopped panicking long enough to look at us in disbelief. “Where did you get that from?”
“What? We poured you a glass.”
“No, the chocolate.”
“Oh. It was in the pantry somewhere. I figured you are off sugar, so…”
“First the Prosecco disaster, and now this? Natalie has a lot to answer for.”
“Oh. Well maybe it was one of the tutors?”
“No. This room is locked for security purposes at all times. There are expensive appliances in here. Only Natalie and I know the combination. She must be sneaking chocolate for herself. Or worse, for the children!”
So we sat for a while eating bite sized chocolate bars and gorging on increasingly warm champagne. Marta sat silently, probably mentally tearing strips off poor Natalie or writing a letter to the company that supplied her generator. Or planning how she could avoid such a disaster from happening again. Caroline and I chatted and forgot she was even there. It kind of reminded me of our uni days, sitting in a park drinking warm beer and eating packets of chips in the darkness, trying to avoid our parents’ curfews.
After an hour or so the door swung open and Marta stumbled to her feet, falling into Natalie’s arms. It appeared, from the House Manager’s perspective, that all was forgiven.
“Marta! I was worried. You hadn’t called to check in for an hour! I looked through the whole house. It didn’t occur to me to look in here until I heard the giggling.”
Caroline smiled as she sauntered out, handing Natalie her glass on her way. “You need Prosecco dear. Best to keep on top of the supplies.” I smiled as we left Marta in Natalie’s arms.
“Thanks for the tour of your pantry Marta. But you know, I think we’ll give the Butler’s Pantry a miss.”
Reading her article as we looked over the plans now, drinking chilled Prosecco, (from a champagne glass), my mind was made up. Open plan kitchen and dining would suit us much better.
Marta’s final thoughts were designed to show me the error in my ways, but instead strengthened my convictions.
“After the ordeal, I learned three things. First, a good house manager is invaluable, but it is important to double check their work. Particularly when managing stock, which is a vital component of a fully functional Butler’s Pantry. Second, it is wise to have back up generators serviced every six months. When you need them they must be in perfect working order to avoid unfortunate mishaps. These details, along with styling, are so important for a functional home well suited for entertaining. And finally, some people just don’t have great taste. Though it is the responsibility of the stylish to impart their wisdom on their less fortunate counterparts, it is also important to remember that the opinions of the less stylish cannot be forced. Even when it comes to Butler’s Pantries.”