CEO Style: Dinner With Friends

FOR LE CIRQUE’S MARCO MACCIONI, IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR.

BY ROBERT HAYNES-PETERSON

The Maccioni
family in 1980,
New York City

 

 

 

 

“I’m a jeans and white shirt guy,” says Marco Maccioni, director of operations and co-owner of Maccioni Group, a restaurant mini-empire that includes Le Cirque and Osteria del Circo restaurants in New York City, Las Vegas, the Dominican Republic and India, along with a half-dozen related ventures. At the moment, it’s a little difficult to believe Maccioni’s casual guy assertion. We’re seated at the wine bar in Le Cirque NY, the business’s Upper East Side flagship, and he’s dressed to the nines in custom Italian suiting, his still youthful feathered hair perfectly tousled. Martha Stewart and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg walk past, heading to an event in the restaurant’s private dining room.

Maccioni excuses himself only briefly to greet and make small talk. He returns quickly, skilled as he is at the art of immaculate hosting, ensuring each guest (including this author) feels like the only VIP in the room. “When I got married last year [to singer Sabrina Wender], we did it at the beach, because it was as opposite as possible to what I wear here every day,” he says. Marco Maccioni is the middle brother of three in this tight-knit family business, which also includes their mother, Egi, and father Sirio, founder of the original Le Cirque in 1974. “We each bring different characteristics,” says Maccioni as we sip our Forest Breeze cocktails (muddled blackberries, white Fragoli, vodka and Chambord) crafted by Bill Ghodbane, Le Cirque’s bar manager of 15 years. “I’m more the wine and dining aficionado [he works closely with the chefs and sommeliers at Le Cirque NY and Circo]. My younger brother [Mauro] is the palate and my oldest [Mario] is the strategist and organizational cheerleader. And my father is omnipresent.” Le Cirque NY is in its third space in 37 years, this time in the sweeping Bloomberg Tower with a view onto the central courtyard.

Maccioni dubs it “Le Cirque 3.0.” Over the years, it has been a proving ground for many of the city’s best chefs/restaurateurs, including Daniel Boulud and Alain Allegretti, and is currently presided over by Olivier Reginensi, who took over in January for longtime head chef Craig Hopson. The food is French, but with Italian and contemporary flairs. Like the space itself, the cuisine and festive atmosphere have changed with each location, while the aura, the heart of the restaurant, remains unchanged. “I parallel it to a classic suit or shoe,” says Maccioni. “There’s a reason it’s a classic and respected. Though it might not be fuchsia or whatever today’s color is, you still look good in it. One of the reasons for Le Cirque’s long-term success is knowing how to do your thing, but not using everything in your playbook at once.” The suit he’s wearing, crafted by a well-known Florentine designer and tie maker, is indeed an elegant fusion of contemporary and classic, with trim lines and an understated pinstripe pattern.

“I guess my personal style is that… I’m Italian. My family is from Tuscany. In Italy, you go shopping with your mother. She teaches you to rub the fabric, feel the lapel, and learn to appreciate fine craftsmanship. I’m more relaxed and jovial, but at Circo, I’m in uniform. The good news is, I get to pick my uniform.”

Osteria del Circo, with outposts in New York and Las Vegas, adorned with European circus themes, is the family’s other restaurant brand. It is classically, unapologetically, Italian. A quote from Marco on the restaurant’s website explains it well: “When we opened Circo in 1996, our business plan was simple. Dad’s hospitality, Mom’s food, run by the sons.” Circo was Marco’s introduction to the business end of things, following stints working for bars and restaurants in Paris and the Champagne district. With the expansion of Le Cirque and Circo around the world (the New Delhi venture in the posh Leelah Palace is the brand’s latest), along with the placement of Le Cirque menus on 15 Holland America cruises, the Maccioni family seems to be everywhere these days.

“My father started when he was 40, and grew with his customers. I started when I was 38, and I hope to do the same thing,” says Maccioni. “Every new venture has new friends to make, which is the best part.” He rises to greet Bill Cunningham, the bicycle-riding New York Times fashion photographer about whom a documentary was made last year. Out comes the next dish: a pairing of Chef Hopson’s lobster risotto and Ghodbane’s Champagne Royale cocktail, featuring a sugared rose petal. The concept of creative cocktails—beyond, say, a Martini or Old Fashioned—at white tablecloth restaurants is a new-again trend in Manhattan and a sign of the times. Le Cirque’s wine bar is also “new” with the six-year-old 3.0.

“Le Cirque wasn’t the same in 1974, 1984 or 1994, and that’s not counting the moves,” says Maccioni. “It was a very purposeful decision to make the restaurants different from each other. But it’s important to do what you know how to do within the changing times, without losing your identity.” Part of that identity is, it’s worth repeating, family. On another visit during lunch, all three brothers— Mauro, Marco and Mario—swing by to say hello. Unlike at, say, a Batali, Puck or Flay property, the odds are pretty good at the New York restaurants (and often in Las Vegas) that a Maccioni will wander past and ask after your meal. Marco lives within a couple of blocks of Circo. “My brothers are here, or I’m here,” he says. “We are doing other things, of course, but we still have the oversight at the restaurants. If that wasn’t important to us, we’d own a million restaurants. But it’s a tradition we follow and keep.”

Art Glass

MIND-BLOWINGLY BEAUTIFUL

BY JACQUELIN CARNEGIE

A mixture of the most common materials— sand, calcium and ash—is transformed by fire into glass. Artists turn it into masterpieces. Making glass dates back to about 2500BC in Mesopotamia. Phoenicians were accomplished glass makers as were the Egyptians, known for stunning turquoise and blue pieces created with copper and cobalt oxides. But it was the Syrians who discovered glassblowing in 50BC.

Until then, glass objects were luxury items, considered more valuable than precious gems. Apart from some jewelry—beads and amulets—most glass was used for utilitarian purposes: holding wine, perfume and oils. Glass blowing made it possible for large quantities of diverse glassware to be produced inexpensively, creating two categories of glass: luxury and functional.

Over the centuries, various areas became renowned as glass centers: Venice, Bohemia, France, Sweden. But while a few individual artists such as René Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany became internationally recognized for innovations in the field, glass making remained industry based, often shrouded in secrecy. It wasn’t until the 1960s in the United States that the idea took hold that individual artists could create art glass objects in their own studios. Fueled by desire and technical advances, in 1962 artist Harvey K. Littleton and glass scientist Dominick Labino led groundbreaking workshops at the Toledo Museum of Art, introducing artists to the use of glass as a material for contemporary art.

Soon, glassmaking programs sprang up at universities and art schools across the country, and what became known as the Studio Glass Movement developed into an international phenomenon. Dale Chihuly is one of the best known American artists to emerge from the movement. But British artist Peter Layton also happened to be in the States at the time, teaching ceramics at the University of Iowa; he became so taken by the properties of glass that he changed disciplines.

“Glass has a life and will of its own that you need to work with rather than control,” explains Layton. “I love the fluidity of the medium and the spontaneity it demands.” Back in England, the glass-smitten Layton established The Contemporary Glass Society to support and encourage glassmakers and opened the London Glassblowing Workshop to create and teach contemporary glass art.

Now, Peter Layton and one of his initial students, Adam Aaronson, are considered mainstays of London’s art glass scene. Both take nature as an inspiration and “landscape” and “painterly influences” are two major areas of common exploration. Although the execution is quite different, their work has the feeling of Impressionist paintings rendered in solid form. “As an artist, I am inspired by the ceaseless variability of light on the landscape, in the sky and on water,” Aaronson says. “Glass is the ideal medium to express this idea of continual change since its properties are inherently fluctuating, not only in its molten state but also in the way the play of light creates endless nuances in the finished piece.”