Dark Night at the Circus

There was Sirio Maccioni, pin-striped and in his element last week, smiling for a change, surrounded by the dozens of blondes, near blondes, and expensively streaked blondes at Denise Rich’s holiday potlatch in Le Cirque’s basically unthrilling upstairs party room, miraculously transformed with feather boas, marabou-edged napkins, and scattered rhinestones. “I am firing the chef,” Sirio confides, luxuriating in the crush of slender hips. “And I have a new young guy coming in January who will make the revolution.” Despite flush holiday crowds, Sirio is deeply wounded by the two-star reviews. Sirio’s new blood, he confides, confirming blog rumors, is Christophe Bellanca, last chef of L.A.’s soon-to-be-defunct l’Orangerie.

“Thomas Keller recommended him,” Sirio says. “Daniel and Ducasse agree.” As often with Sirio, reality trumps hope as I dig deeper. Despair clouds his rant. “Nothing is signed. I cannot say what will happen. That person you talked to”—he cannot bring himself to utter the name Christophe. “He came twice to work in the kitchen and got along well with the staff. He says he wants to work for Le Cirque, but he is going to France first. What does that mean? Then he is not free till January 15. We are so busy. I am talking to other chefs.”

Reached by phone in West Hollywood, Bellanca (veteran of Michelin three-star Georges Blanc as well as La Pyramide and Pic) is high on himself. “I love New York,” he cries. “I love the energy of New York. Maccioni is a legend to me. L.A. is too superficial for the food. They only want to eat Japanese. New York is a city with more food culture.” He and Sirio have discussed the menu. “We will do the old dishes, of course, not too many. I will be good with the press.” Already, he is seeing stars.

Current chef Pierre Schaedelin, who sidled into the kitchen at the Helmsley Palace Le Cirque 2000 eight years ago, has not been fired and has not quit, although foodie blogs are full of speculation as to what will happen to him now. He will be the corporate chef of the Maccioni family’s spun-out empire, Sirio insists. “He’ll put in catering at Le Cirque in Mexico City. They have so much money there,” he marvels. “Bellagio,” where oldest son Mario runs a money-machine at Circo and a mini Le Cirque, “wants us in the new city they’re building in Las Vegas.” Pierre (who was unavailable to comment) was on his way to Casa di Campo, where the Maccionis are considering opening an outpost on the beach.

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.

Dark Night at the Circus