The Maccioni brothers of the legendary Le Cirque may as well be The Ringling Brothers of Ringling Brothers Circus. Their Father – the iconic Sirio Maccioni – used to be referred to as a ringmaster of sorts, reigning over the original world-renowned restaurant Le Cirque. Now, his three sons are at the helm of the new Le Cirque (somewhat) in his stead. While Sirio is still very involved, he’s brought on Mauro, Mario and Marco Maccioni to divvy up the job of running his empire. They do a great job, but like any business (especially a family one) there’s definitely blood, sweat and tears involved. Trying to keep the timelessness of Le Cirque alive while also making sure it stays relevant is no easy task.
We decided to spend some time getting to know Mauro Maccioni, who not only gave us an inside look into his empire, but who also cooked his famous risotto for us in the Le Cirque kitchen while doing so. He’s definitely one of the most dapper restaurateurs we’ve met, and we loved traveling back with him into the golden age of restaurants – when Warhol was at the next table, when downtown didnt exist, and where the upper east side and midtown were the only New York food meccas…
What’s it like trying to keep ‘Le Cirque’ timeless (and keep it’s legacy) while also trying to stay relevant and modern?
It is a very, very difficult job. My father (Sirio) did it as a struggle for many, many years. He had his sons come up to help him. And we’d always joke around and he would be the first to say: “You all did in three what I did in one!”
I think it’s a father thing.
Yeah, he’s very humble right! (laughs) It is difficult. There’s always a need in society to be out with the old and in with the new. So it was most definitely a difficulty. We try to maintain our identity. We don’t pretend to be a modern styled restaurant or anything like that. Our strengths are based in our classic principles of cooking. But that being said, we understand the importance of having to be a little fresh, so we try to freshen things up in certain areas. We’ve devised a method of allocating our historic item’s to one section of the menu, and then allowing the chef to do the other half of the menu in a more contemporary way. So that’s the balance we try to keep.
Right now, we’re still in the process of looking for an executive chef, which is an exciting yet daunting task. It’s comforting to know that there are still journalists out there who are like, “When you make a decision, let us know. We want to be able to break the news!” I’ve even had networks saying, “I know you’re in the process of selecting a chef and are doing tastings. Why don’t you let us base a TV show around it?” But, being the serious professionals we are, we sort of shy away from that and really focus. So hopefully we can find someone, and they’ll walk out onto the balcony like the Pope did yesterday!
Speaking of TV, I wanted to ask how accurate that HBO documentary portrayal was and what that was like. Did you enjoy it?
No, it was very painful. Painful in the sense that, even when I look at myself in the movie, I cringe! Everyone says “Oh you’re really funny, you did a good job.” I don’t like to see myself on a movie screen or a TV screen. And I know how crazy our family is. The person who filmed it, and whose movie it is was – Andrew Rossi – is an old friend of mine from elementary school. We didn’t think much of it when back in ’98 he was like “You know what? I’m gonna start filming you guys. I may put some footage together to do something.” We’d have meetings and he’d ask to film the meeting and I’d think, ‘Wow, we’re crazy to let this guy film one of our meetings, because we’re pretty crazy.’ He still filmed them, and then he filmed everything. And sure enough, in about 2005, he approached us and said, “I’m putting it all together and editing it.” And we were like “Really? This guy actually made a documentary out of this?” I was afraid to see it; I was thinking of all the crazy stuff – the screaming, the yelling, the crying, the throwing stuff at each other. He edited pretty well; he still was able to make us look good, but pretty passionate about what we did. So there was a sigh of relief when it came out. Like most families and a lot of businesses, it did capture the reality that things get very discombobulated, but the passion resonated with the people who saw the movie. There was a good level of humor. For people in the business, immigrants from Italy and people with a passion for food, it was a pretty intriguing documentary.