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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Any foodie worth his or her fleur de sel will happily devour Leslie Brenner's vivid account of a year inside high-powered chef Daniel Boulud's namesake restaurant in Manhattan. Rich with detail, it is a lively and savory tale of life in the upper-echelon restaurant business, the perfect chaser to books like The Soul of a Chef and Kitchen Confidential.
Both the book's title and background drama come from the moment in June 1999 when, to the surprise of the culinary world, Daniel was awarded only three stars by the then-new restaurant reviewer for The New York Times, William Grimes. Thus 2000 became the year that Boulud determined to earn the four-star rating he achieved at Le Cirque for his grand new restaurant.
Brenner, a contributing editor to Travel & Leisure, spent that year at the restaurant. Scribbling in shorthand, she wore whites while reporting in the kitchen and dressed as a hostess while observing the front desk. Consequently, all the dialogue and details of the backstage dramas and daily triumphs are here. So, too, are answers to inevitable consumer questions: Where does the restaurant buy its cheeses? (Murray's on Bleecker Street.) Who supplies the flowers? (Olivier.) How is it possible to call at 9 a.m., one month in advance as required, and still find the restaurant already sold out? ( A certain proportion of tables are reserved for regulars.) Is there a way to work around this policy? (Sort of; see book for a detailed explanation.)
The drive to excellence is chronicled throughout the book at every station. We meet wonderful real-life characters, from reservations manager Erica Cantley and executive chef Alex Lee to young line cooks like Julie, who ultimately move on. We experience the adrenaline that ripples from the sous-chefs to the runners while they create and serve up to 400 dinners a night (as well as 80 in the banquet room). Ultimately, we understand why four-star restaurants like Daniel charge what they do (in this case, $184 per person on average, excluding tax and gratuities) and gain a far better appreciation of their overall artistry. (Ginger Curwen)