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Personality Profile: Ricardo Catarrinho

Murray’s server, Ricardo Catarrinho, is the quintessential everyman.

It was like being transported back to a more genteel time, when guests—even reporters—are offered a pair of slippers when snow boots are abandoned at the front door and tea with honey in dainty flowered teacups, along with a plate of just-warmed pastries.

I was there to interview Ricardo Catarrinho at his Georgian mansion in the Wedge neighborhood of Minneapolis, but I wasn’t expecting to go through the looking glass. When I showed him that I had brought along a dry pair of shoes, he beamed as if I was the most thoughtful person on earth. He then took me on a tour of his decades-old mansion, including the two Airbnb spaces and the charming carriage house behind the lush gardens now hidden by snow. When I admired the artwork, he pointed out the two paintings by his wife and elaborated on the oversized surrealistic art, as well as the painting, of three happy Chinese children, the couple had bought on their travels.

If this is the way he pampers strangers to his home, I want to be seated at his table at Murray’s Steakhouse.

Catarrinho, who moved here from Portugal when he was a teen, has been a server in some of the best restaurants in the Twin Cities, including Goodfellow’s (when Masa was in the basement), 510 and Café Un Deux Trois. His ideal number of tables a night is three, so he can cast illumination on the menu, refold the napkins when a guest leaves the table momentarily, anticipate needs and then be at the front door to open it and bid his guests farewell. At one restaurant, to accomplish that last bit of magic for guests meant racing outside around the restaurant to the front door because the dining room was too crowded to silently glide through undetected. 

Serving is a bit showmanship, honed skill and the ability to look someone in the eye while shaking out their napkin and placing it on their lap with a flair. It’s also being their advocate with the kitchen when the guest wants a dish their way and the chef’s not buying it. 

“The money is not my priority,” he says. “Money I have no control over, but if your soul is nourished by how you serve people...” Catarrinho didn’t finish the sentence, but my guess is that had he finished it, he would have added, “the money will follow.”

Sometimes he waits at two different restaurants, just to keep things interesting. He’s also a landlord, a hotelier of two Airbnb spaces and does translation work and voice overs on the side. 

Catarrinho, with his dark curly hair and upturned mustache, comes by his charm naturally. In Portugal, his father, José, was the head cabin steward on a cruise ship. A natural storyteller, Catarrinho says that on one cruise, an American took a liking to his father and invited him to visit her in Minnesota He told her he was happily married, and therefore must decline. Four years later, José’s wife died of cancer.  A short while later, the American woman’s friend was on another cruise and got into a conversation with the steward about her friend who had fallen in love with a steward years ago and had never forgotten him. The steward figured out it was his friend, José and gave the woman his contact information. Catarrinho remembers his father telling him and his sister that he was going to the United States and would be back in three weeks. 

When he returned he confessed he had just married a woman in Minnesota and they were all moving there. 

“I did not want to come,” Catarrinho says. “I had a Huckleberry Finn life," carrying slingshots and cutting sticks for fishing poles. His floaters were cut from the cork trees that are so plentiful in Portugal. “I took the fish to my aunt to cook because my mom thought the rivers were dangerous,” he says of his covert activities. 

He did come, however, and attended high school in Saint Anthony and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in agriculture communications. 

Becoming a server was natural. Catarrinho loved the elegance of the nouvelle cuisine where a tiny orchid was placed on each bread plate and the food was as beautiful as it was delicious. He remembers the days of the tableside soufflé, where the waiter would roll it out quickly before it could fall, pull it close to the guests so that when he “broke” into the soufflé, the steam would rise and he’d fan it toward the guests so they’d get the full force of the aromatic ingredients. 

Catarrinho admits that while he loves to cook, he would never give up serving to work in a restaurant kitchen. However, he’s come up with the perfect solution. Eatwith, a new online service where people signup to eat at strangers' homes, much like Airbnb is for housing. It’s a new twist on dining for experienced travelers who want something different, and for people wanting to try home cooking in their own neighborhood. Which is why as soon as Catarrinho goes live with Eatwith, I plan to be the first paying guest at his table. 

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