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Captain Buffalo

On the brink of opening his 50th Ted’s Montana Grill at Rock Center next week, a post–Time Warner Ted Turner enlightens Steve Fishman on his career change, the health benefits of bison, and monetizing the surplus.

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I read somewhere that the restaurant business is kind of a redemption for you after having left Time Warner on unhappy terms. Do you see this as another act in your business life?
First of all, I was 65 when they let me go at Time Warner, maybe 64, okay? Nobody wants to hire somebody 64 years old. But you can start a company. And I love business. I’m a hard worker. CNN didn’t just happen because somebody snapped their fingers, okay? I wanted to get into something different.

I wondered about the restaurant business; it wasn’t too long ago that you set out to remake the world, do something about overpopulation, end nuclear threats, and cure disease.
Well, hey, listen, feeding the hungry is part of saving the world, my friend. We’re fighting hunger.

There’s a difference between curing disease and setting up a successful restaurant chain, no?
Well, that’s true. But I need to make money somewhere so I can give it away.

Are there transferable skills between CNN and the restaurant business?
Absolutely. The principles of all businesses are the same. You’ve got to have a motivated, highly trained group of people working there. People have to be willing to work hard, have a winning attitude, just like the Mets are now. Then you got to execute, my friend. You got to get the food prepared properly, bring it out while it’s hot or while it’s cold, depending on what the order is. You’ve got to get out there and hustle, man, you know, like what Pete Rose used to do, before he got into gambling.

What’s your favorite New York City restaurant?
Ted’s Montana Grill!

That’s not open yet.
Oh, I don’t know. I’m trying to think. You know, when I’m in town I’m almost always at a banquet. The banquet room at the Waldorf.

So, you’re the world’s biggest bison farmer?
That doesn’t mean a whole lot, but I do have around 45,000 of ’em.

What is it that you like about bison?
I just, I really love them. I’m a naturalist and an environmentalist, and I was touched by the tragedy that occurred with the bison. There were 30 million of ’em on the Great Plains when the white man landed in North America. In the 1880s, there were only about 200 of ’em. I wanted to do everything I could during my life to bring them back. In order to do that you have to be able to monetize the surplus.

Do you have any pangs about having saved bison and eating them now?
Hey, listen, that’s the only way you can do it. Half of the bison calves are bulls. If you have 100 cows you only need ten bulls to mate with. So 80 percent or 90 percent of the bulls are superfluous from a breeding standpoint, so you’ve got to do something with them.

What is the difference between the taste of a hamburger and the taste of a bison burger?
Boy, that’s really hard. To me it tastes a lot better. Have you ever eaten bison?

No, I’m looking forward to trying it.
Well, you have to cook it differently than meat because it has almost no fat, and I don’t eat any fatty meats. It’s lower in fat and cholesterol than chicken or fish. And half as much as beef. It’s so much better for you, and it tastes better, ’cause once you start eating it, you just, beef just seems way too fatty for you.

Do you have a favorite way to eat a bison burger?
I like it with a slice of cheese.

You date a lot, Ted. What do women look for in a meal?
I mean, I’ve never been a woman, so I don’t know. But I think it’s pretty much the same thing men do. Great food, great service, and great atmosphere. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out.

(Ted’s Montana Grill opens September 27 at 110 W. 51st St., at Sixth Ave.; 212-245-5220.)


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