Four legends of New York City’s restaurant scene were honored Thursday night for their roles in elevating American fine dining to a level even the snootiest European could no longer dismiss.
Andre Soltner was credited with having one of the best restaurants in the world, Lutece. Sirio Maccioni introduced countless celebrities to some of the globe’s finest French fare at his Le Cirque. Albert Kumin made the desserts of Windows on the World and the Four Seasons a can’t-skip part of the meal. And Mimi Sheraton heralded the trio’s triumphs—along with their occasional lows—as the former restaurant critic for The New York Times.
The four were presented by the Culinary Institute of America with an Augie, the award named after a veritable culinary deity, Auguste Escoffier, developer of the multi-cook-station kitchen line used by most restaurants today. Previous recipients have included Grant Achatz, Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller and Norman Brinker.
Soltner, Maccioni and Kumin were standouts of the New York fine-dining scene during the city’s rise into one of the best restaurant cities in the world. As they indicated from the podium, they were friends as well as competitors of sorts. Maccioni and Soltner, for instance, would sometimes compare their reservations for a night to see if any guests had double-booked, revealed Maccioni’s son Marco, who accepted the Augie while his father was home, resting a broken leg. Customers who hedged their bets were banished to wait in the bar for a few extra minutes before being seated, he admitted to laughter.
They all seemed united in their attitude toward Sheraton, characterizing it as respect and admiration mixed with trepidation and annoyance. She had been a fearsome influence on diners during the eight years she reviewed restaurants for the Times.
All flashed considerable humor about the days they were gods of the local scene (all but Maccioni have stepped away from their businesses; Kumin is 95 years old). Sheraton, for instance, said her late husband, Dick Falcone, was the only reason Maccioni gave her reviews any credence. “I had the sense to marry an Italian man,” she quipped.
The awards were presented during a gala at the Museum of Natural History, where $1 million was raised in the course of the night for CIA scholarships.