By Jeff Johnson
When I arrive at Madre's, the Jennifer Lopez-owned restaurant in California, Wassim, the general manager, asks to see my CV.
"I need to make sure you are who you say you are. We get people who, you know..." he trails off. Yeah, I know, as I imagine a crazed fan, posing as a caterer, barricading herself in the fridge until Jennifer agrees to have a cup of tea with her.
"Not that there would be any cups left," Wassim says. Souvenir hunters pinch menus, credit card holders, dishes - anything pocketable, in fact.
"We treat every customer the same way we would Jennifer," says Wassim. Assistant manager Armando, with whom I'm training for the day, says: "The customers will judge Jennifer, so we have to do things right."
There are no tacky Hard Rock Cafe-esque displays of Gigli scripts or outfits on the walls. Everyone who works here keeps emphasising that it's a family restaurant and I suspect that this cosy image is Jennifer's way of re-inventing the public's perception of her.
The VIP section of Madre's is really just a section of the dining room that can be blocked off with sliding doors. "This is where Jennifer and Marc Anthony like to eat," says Armando - as opposed to the patio, which is "where Ben Affleck liked to sit".
The newlyweds spent last New Year's Eve in the VIP room, before Marc emerged to serenade diners, while Jennifer looked on proudly.
I spend about three hours working in the hectic kitchen, where sous chef Eloisa tells me that Jennifer makes suggestions on the Cuban and Puerto Rican dishes on the menu. "She doesn't want the flan cut into normal circles like everywhere else." Apparently, she prefers triangles.
Once I'm released from the kitchen, Wassim tells me: "There's been graffiti in the men's bathrooms in all the restaurants I've ever worked. Here, there's graffiti in the women's bathroom. The customers write notes to Jennifer, hoping she'll read them."
He then takes me to an upstairs office, which is home to a few CCTV monitors, although much of the surveillance is directed outside at the inescapable paparazzi. While photographers aren't allowed within 50 metres of the restaurant door, they do loiter on nearby rooftops.
By 9pm, every table is filled with families, wheeler-dealers, grandmas, young lovers and geeky guys, proving that everyone is interested in "celebrity".
The house is also packed with young Latinos sausaged into expensive jeans and flipping their highlighted blow-dried hair around. But the "Jenny from the block" casual look doesn't go down well at Madre's, as Armando makes sure a guy in jeans is seated in a tucked-away corner. "I'm not going to turn him away, but he will remember for next time," he says. - Courtesy of Glamour magazine