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Waitress from Harrison serves dignitaries at Phipps

| Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009

Lindsey Wislie always tries to avoid spilling food while she works, but on Thursday night, security was watching her.

Within two days she went from preparing for a long weekend from classes at the University of Pittsburgh to serving wine to several delegates to the G-20 during the summit's welcoming reception.

The manager of her on-campus job with food service company Sodhexo at the Peterson Event Center called her to see if she was free for Thursday's dinner at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

"I had worked there last week and the general manager joked about having us back next week to serve the president," said Wislie, of Harrison. "He laughed like it was a joke."

Wislie, a senior health information management major, has worked some high-profile meals, including one in honor of the three Pittsburgh police officers slain this spring, but that didn't involve two security checks that took about two hours total.

First she served wine to many of the international leaders as it took more than an hour for the entire delegation to enter Phipps.

Then she was among the servers assigned to serve food to a room containing the assistants to the dignitaries.

Wislie does not consider herself politically acute and did not recognize many of the world leaders. But she still was thrilled to be in their presence.

"At one point, (Pittsburgh Mayor) Luke Ravenstahl came through with his wife and he was standing right next to me with (Allegheny County Executive) Dan Onorato and I could hear them talking," she said. "It wasn't much, but it was still exciting to be around everybody."

Seeing the varied cultural clothing styles worn by the leaders' wives piqued Wislie's interest.

When the delegation was seated in another room, Wislie and her colleagues went to work serving roasted halibut, caramelized fennel and Meyer lemon with black charred, sweet corn risotto and celeriac dumplings to the 32 attaches.

Jeff Carroll, a Butler native who is the chef at the recently reopened University Club in Oakland, prepared the meal.

As Wislie served the assistants, she picked up a few idiosyncrasies: The Japanese assistant ate only dinner rolls, pushing other plates of food away, the Argentinian assistant was a vegan and he and his Mexican counterpart drank no wine.

Wislie didn't care for the dessert -- a buttermilk cream anglaise with a pumpkin seed brittle.

"The aftertaste was too strong," she said.

She spent more than 12 hours at Phipps, and when she tried to go home to her Oakland apartment, her throat felt the effects of tear gas that police used to combat protesters earlier in the day.

She ended up going home to Natrona Heights to get away from it.

"I'm glad I did it," she said. "It's something I can look back on and tell my children about someday.

"It was a great experience, that I was able to witness so many extraordinary and brilliant people in one place together."

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