It's a given that many of you reading this review are, ahem, serious eaters. As such, you probably eat in restaurants a fair amount. Whether they're new hot spots or your favorite local diner, many serious eaters enjoy spending money and time eating out. Frequently we laud the chefs behind the delicious food on our plates and thank the wait staff for personalized service. But less often recognized are the brains behind the whole operation: the restaurateurs who invested the time, money, and emotion in opening and growing a successful eatery.
Nicholas Landers, the restaurant critic for the Financial Times, pays homage to the men and women behind the scenes of some of the world's great restaurants in his book The Art of the Restaurateur. A former restaurateur himself—at L'Escargot in Soho—Landers appreciates the energy and investment required of restaurateurs. Opening even one restaurant can be all-consuming, and many of the entrepreneurs in this book have opened several.
Landers interviews high-profile restauranteurs around the world from Joe Bastianich and Danny Meyer, both restaurant moguls in the U.S., to Juli Soler of El Bulli in Spain, to Marie-Pierre Troigros of Maison Troisgras in France. These successful individuals often share similar experiences and insights. Whether they came from a restaurant family or broke into the business, they frequently started their flagship eateries with little cash and only a dream of what the place could and would become. They chose chefs and staff who could propel their vision forward. They placed chefs in the spotlight while often preferring to stay behind the scenes, managing personnel and food quality, eating anonymously in their own establishments as often as possible.
One of my favorite profiles is of Maguy Le Coze, the powerful woman behind Le Bernardin in New York City. Many casual eaters would probably assume that Eric Ripert, the restaurant's famous chef, owns the place. But Le Coze has run Le Bernardin restaurants for over four decades—a feat that marks her, according to Landers, as "the only female restaurateur to have run a restaurant at this level for so many years." She has taken on Ripert as a partner and the two of them remain at the forefront of French cuisine.
The Art of the Restaurateur is a substantial book. Telling the stories of so many restaurants and interesting people takes many pages. But to break up the narrative, there are beautiful line drawings sprinkled throughout the chapters to illustrate how each restaurant is decorated. These illustrations added a playful and humanizing element—appropriate for a book that strives to show the real human faces behind several dozen culinary institutions.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.