Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze were full of passion but had little knowledge of how to run a restaurant when they opened the 25-seat Le Bernardin in Paris in 1972. After receiving more than one disastrous review, the brother and sister regrouped and, embracing the nouvelle cuisine movement of the time, simplified the menu. An article in L’Express, which praised Gilbert’s cooking and Maguy’s taste in running the restaurant, changed the course of their lives.
One Michelin star followed, and then another after they moved to a new and larger location near the Arc de Triomphe. In the early 1980s, Maguy started to toy with the idea of opening a restaurant in New York. “I met Ben Duke Holloway, a descendant of Duke University’s founding family who was an executive at The Equitable Life Assurance Society,” she says. “They were building the Equitable Center on Seventh Avenue and looking for a grand restaurant to occupy a ground-floor space on 51st Street. At the time, no fine American restaurateur would think of opening on the West Side. But we liked each other, shook hands and connected our architects.” The Le Cozes sold their Paris restaurant to chef Guy Savoy, and Le Bernardin at the Equitable Center became an instant sensation, receiving a four-star review from The New York Times three months after its opening—a rating it has maintained ever since.
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