The 21st-century gastropreneur is a restless creature, prone to extended periods of intercontinental jet-setting in the hopes of establishing a global empire (and a nice line of proprietary china while he’s at it). With all that frequent flying, it makes sense that his natural habitat is the luxury hotel—a calm, cosseting place in which to touch down, book a spa treatment or two, and open a restaurant whenever and wherever an appropriate offer is made.
This fall, New York finds itself host to not one, not two, but three such celebrity restaurateurs, thirteen glittery Michelin stars scattered among them. Joël Robuchon has already made a brief appearance at the Four Seasons Hotel to kick-start his fourth Atelier, where a tightly controlled trickle of guests has been sampling his luxurious small-plate menu around the signature U-shaped bar, but he’s back next month for the official opening. Gordon Ramsay, the intense, driven, perfectionist chef who also plays one (quite entertainingly) on TV, debuts his eponymous restaurant at the newly christened London NYC hotel in November. And Alan Yau, Ramsay’s fellow Londoner and the visionary behind Wagamama, Hakkasan, and Yauatcha, has already been deemed the savior of New York haute Chinese food, months before unveiling Park Chinois at Ian Schrager’s revivified Gramercy Park Hotel.
But Ramsay, Robuchon, and Yau have something in common besides being multitasking foreigners who will all, after their splashy grand openings and first reviews, eventually bid us adieu, only to return for periodic spot checks at tightly scheduled intervals. They’ve all bided their time for the right opportunity, circling New York with a healthy apprehension, deferring their grand Manhattan entrances until the footing was sure and the infrastructure in place.
“For eighteen months, there’s not a night, a day, an hour gone past I haven’t had a thought about it,” says Ramsay, on location outside Málaga, Spain, where he was shooting an episode of Kitchen Nightmares. “I’m not coming to New York to offer you 25 different flavored waters, you’re not getting sixteen different rums for your baba, and you’re not gonna get 25 different fountain pens to sign the bill”—a not-so-veiled reference to quintessential Michelin man Alain Ducasse, whose frosty reception seemed to disconcert these culinary highfliers more than did the imperiled status of foie gras.
Although he has a presence in Tokyo and Dubai, Ramsay wouldn’t be coming to New York at all if the Blackstone Group, his hotelier partner at London’s Connaught, Savoy, and Claridge’s, hadn’t embarked on the $50 million conversion of the Rihga Royal into the London NYC and carved out a 45-seat modern European restaurant and 92-seat tapas-style bar with the ambitious chef’s name on it. Robuchon, too, has taken a leisurely approach to cracking the New York market: After “retiring” in 1996, the so-called chef of the century was cajoled back into the business by hungry young cooks who’d trained under him and needed his imprimatur to establish an international network of affiliated Ateliers. When Four Seasons owner and Beanie Babies billionaire Ty Warner came calling, Robuchon acquiesced, installing Yosuke Suga as his stand-in and New Yorkifying the menu with pastrami and a $24 pair of miniature foie gras burgers.
Yau, a pioneering restaurant conceptualizer rather than a chef, has been just as ardently wooed over the years, and Ian Schrager considered it a coup when Yau signed on not only to create a modern Chinese restaurant but also to mastermind its French chinoiserie design.
No matter how cautiously these three empire builders proceed, with big ambitions and big personalities come big expectations. “Don’t judge me, judge my food” is all Ramsay asks.
Don’t worry. We will.
—L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon at Four Seasons Hotel New York, 57 E. 57th St., nr. Madison Ave. (212-350-6658).
—Park Chinois at Gramercy Park Hotel, 2 Lexington Ave., at 21st St.; November.
—Gordon Ramsay at the London NYC, 151 W. 54th St., nr. Seventh Ave.; November. Next: Keith McNally and Jody Williams of Morandi