Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

The Anti-Michelin Man: Christian Delouvrier shuns stars on Second Avenue

The recent announcement of the 2011 Michelin Guide rankings for New York City arrived with its usual fanfare, setting up some restaurants for superstardom and no doubt dropping a cloud of disappointment (and worse) on others. When two friends and I visited Bernard Loiseau’s newly anointed three-star restaurant La Côte d’Or in Burguny back in 1991 or so, the chef, who was both charming and fanatical, recounted to us his relentless bid for stardom. Every morning when he woke up, he said, as he put on his socks, he would chant to himself “trois etoiles, trois etoiles,” (three stars, three stars). In 2003, Loiseau committed suicide, an act many believed was related to a decline in critical acclaim for his restaurant and rumors that he was about to lose one of his prized Michelin stars.

Where stealth chef Christian Delouvrier works his magic.

Amid this year’s Michelin triumphs and demotions, and in memory of Loiseau, it’s instructive to look at a chef who once fiercely safeguarded his stars before opting for life in a much slower lane. Christian Delouvrier earned four stars from The New York Times at Lespinasse in 1998 and then pulled down three Michelin stars at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House. The restaurant was a target of critics from the beginning, however. Although awarded its three Michelin stars from inspectors under Delouvrier’s watch, the Times subtracted its fourth star in 2005, leading to Delouvrier’s departure.

He cooked at a La Goulue in Bal Harbor, Brasserie Ruhlmann in Chicago, and briefly at David Bouley’s Secession. Then suddenly the celebrity chef manqué appeared in the kitchen at La Mangeoire, a 30-year-old Provençal bistro on Second Avenue at 53rd Street.

I happened to talk to Delouvrier recently while reporting a story, and asked how he ended up here, amid cheerful sunflower- and orange-colored bric-a-brac, in a corner of Manhattan far from the power corridors of his previous kitchens. His cooking happens to retain all of its fantastic-ness, by the way, but coming across it here is little like stumbling upon a Caravaggio at the Greenwich Avenue Street Fair.

“That’s a good question,” the gentlemanly chef responded, “and I’m going to tell you what really attracted me here. “In 2008 I was in Bal Harbor, and I decided to come back to New York. One day somebody called me up, he said he needed a consultant. I went there, we talked, and I really got very excited about this. It was the challenge of “taking a restaurant that had been run differently,” and making it his own that drew him. “The challenge is still there,” he said, “We are not yet where we want to be.”

Also alluring was the fact that La Mangeoire was off the radar of blood-sniffing critics. “After being in a four-star restaurant,” the chef explained, “it is very, very soothing to be able to work and do whatever I want, and to bring a restaurant up to the level I would like to see. It’s a work in progress, and I really enjoy that.”

La Mangeoire owner Gérard Donato deserves Salesman of the Decade award for landing this talented chef; we’re looking forward to seeing what the duo creates in the coming months and years.

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