I’d like to tell you Joe Baum who created 167 restaurants in his lifetime. Among them were the four highest grossing eateries in the United States. They were Windows on the World, The Rainbow Room, The Four Seasons and Tavern on the Green.
Joe’s philosophy was simple: “Our product,” he said, “the measure of our success, is pleasure. We are in the pleasure business. We are organized, equipped and staffed to supply pleasure, at a profit, which means that any threats to pleasure are bad for business. We must constantly ask ourselves, “What more can we give?” What will it cost you to give ’em a glass of champagne or an extra oyster? The more pleasure you give, the more you will receive along with at least temporary job security and higher fees.”
To illustrate the lengths Joe would go to provide his guests with a memorable occasion, I’ll tell you a little story. One evening Joe hosted a dinner for the elite Confrerie des Chevaliers du Testevin at The Four Seasons restaurant in New York City. The Chevaliers were lifelong gourmets and wine connoisseurs without peer and this would be the ultimate test, even for the greatest of restaurateurs.
Joe planned and planned, and planned some more, and finally, the day before the dinner was to be held, the entire staff of the restaurant staged a full dress rehearsal of the exact meal.
The menu was extraordinarily complicated. Custom-made pyramid-shaped molds were manufactured. They were designed to enable the chefs to fill them with pyramid-shaped triangles of veal loin that were then inserted int the center of the fillets of beef…foie gras was placed inside the veal, truffles were positioned inside the foie gras…The entire presentation was created out of a progression of pyramid shapes. Everything was what we would now call —over the top. (The dessert of Pears en Chemise, the chemises (nightgowns) were made of gold leaf).
Never one to miss an opportunity to turn simple abundance into wild excess, Joe hung Chevaliers’ ribbons from the ceiling enfolding each table as though it was a small pavilion. As a final coup, he built a platform into the restaurant’s famous 20 foot-square marble reflecting pool in the center of the room so the waiters appeared to be walking on water.
Mercifully the actual feast went off perfectly but early the next morning, after a sleepless night, Baum grabbed the publicity man by his lapels, demanding to know the Chevaliers’ reaction to his extravaganza.
“Well, Joe,” said the cornered P.R. man, “The Chevaliers where so overwhelmed that they met at their hotel last night, after the dinner, to pass an extraordinary resolution — and here’s what they said: We, the Chevaliers of the elite Confrerie, resolve unanimously that your was the finest meal every served in the history of the world!?
Baum let go of the man’s (Roger Martin’s) lapels and reflected for a full 10 seconds; then Joe blurted out, his face red with rage, “Goddamit, that just not good enough. Get me the chef. Goddamit. GODDAMIT!!!
Perfection is only rarely achieved. Striving, though, is a worthwhile endeavor…