It was necessary to shell out 1,000 dollars each to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Bernardin, the famous three-star hotel in New York, on November 9th. On the menu, six dishes prepared by chef Éric Ripert, including his specialty: tuna carpaccio on a bed of foie gras. “For me, who didn’t want to have a family or children, it’s half a century of life dedicated to this place,” says Maguy Le Coze, co-founder of the brand together with his brother Gilbert.
It all began in January 1972 in a former antique shop on the Quai de la Tournelle in Paris. Inseparable, Maguy and Gilbert opened a fish and seafood restaurant there which they called Le Bernardin, a nod to a brotherhood of monks who loved wine and good food. Born eighteen months apart in Port-Navalo (Morbihan), where their parents have an inn, these Bretons dream of adventure. She, who has tried her hand at modelling, is at the counter while he, who has no gastronomic training, is in the kitchen.
They conquered Paris, why not New York?
The beginnings are chaotic, but they win a first and then a second star in the Michelin Guide. Now located near the Arc de Triomphe, the restaurant attracts an international VIP clientele. Maguy has his sights set on America. They conquered Paris, why not New York?
The Treasure of the Stars
Gilbert doesn’t believe it; she insists. In the land of burgers, we know nothing about seafood. Launched in 1986, in Midtown, a business district located next to Broadway theaters, the new Bernardin was immediately sold out. The “New York Times” gives him four stars, the maximum score he still holds. The stars flock: Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger (a friend of Maguy), Richard Gere, Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama… And at the Fulton Market, the fish market, Gilbert is welcomed, who speaks badly the English as the Messiah when he arrives every day at 2 in the morning to select the best arrivals. Charismatic, he lives at 100 an hour, working like crazy, until his heart gave out in 1994 at the age of 48.
The cuisine remains “faithful” to its French roots
Devastated, Maguy, who wants to continue her work, turns to a 29-year-old young man, Éric Ripert, Gilbert’s right-hand man. From the menu, the Andorra-raised Antibes native keeps only raw fish. He reinvents the rest “by integrating different cultures, while remaining very faithful to our French roots”, he underlines. All of New York applauds: in 2005 the Michelin Guide awards the restaurant with the third star. And this year, the establishment was crowned Best Restaurant in the World by La Liste.
Fifty years after its creation, Le Bernardin has grown into an institution with 170 employees and four kitchens, serving 100 meals for lunch and 150 for dinner. Which makes it probably the best French embassy in New York.