The Story of My Life and Le Cirque
By Sirio Maccioni and Peter Elliot
(John Wiley and Sons, Inc., May 2004)
it came from his father and mother, or maybe it was just
smart, but Sirio was always very good at knowing who was
going to be a success and who wasn't. You just never saw
him with the bad boys in town."
Sirio Maccioni's Aunt Luigina in Sirio: The Story
of My Life and Le Cirque.
he or won't he? That's the big question circulating these
days in the media and among the well-heeled patrons of Le
Cirque 2000. Sirio Maccioni, the world-famous owner
of his just-as-famous restaurant, recently announced he
is packing up his dining room in the New
York Palace Hotel at the end of the year. At this time,
he says he'll reopen again elsewhere, but that's all we
know. Speculation is heavy on both sides as to what's next,
but what we do know is that he's moving on well before his
end of his lease. Sounds a little gossipy? If you enjoy
such tidbits, especially about Maccioni, try four hundred
pages hot off the presses, in Sirio:
The Story of My Life and Le Cirque.
this book deserves more respect than to be lumped with gossip.
Certainly, Maccioni has hobbed and nobbed aplenty with a
dizzying list of "important" people. He has been
privy to plenty of scandal. But, really, this is the story
of a poor Tuscan farmboy who became orphaned in dire circumstances
and left his extended family to scratch out a living in
hotels and restaurants in Paris and Hamburg. After years
of rigorous training (including at the Plaza
Athénée in Paris, and the Hotel Atlantic
in Hamburg) he was lured onto a cruise ship, only to discover
the promise of an elite staff position was a cruel trick
into cheap labor.
President Clinton with the Maccioni Family
story, however, is not so dismal as the larger circumstances
might suggest. After initially reaching Paris he was rejected
for a position at the Plaza Athénée because
he didn't speak French. Yves Montand swooped in to his rescue.
Then, Roger Verge became Maccioni's mentor in Paris. Of
course, it's not all that simple and that subplot is fascinating,
but Maccioni's gift—for which he would ultimately
create the perfect venue at Le Cirque—was apparently
acquired at an early age.
eventually landed in New York, via Zurich, Havana and a
cruise line—then waited tables in a multi-year stint
at Delmonico's, before he climbed the ladder up to
The Colony. It's here where the storytelling begins
to get colorful, like the time at El Morocco when Maccioni
shared a rather indelicate moment with Lauren Bacall. The
Colony schooled him in the relentless demands of the upper
crust and Maccioni soon found himself maître'd—and
face-to-face with café society and the likes of Onassis,
Sinatra, Joan Crawford and the Kennedys.
that's the background story that most people probably haven't
heard until now. After the Colony, Maccioni opened Le Cirque
in 1974, and later, Le Cirque 2000 and the rest (Osteria
del Circo, Le
Cirque in Las Vegas, and Le Cirque, Mexico City). So
what? If you don't care about the history of the New York
restaurant scene, does a book like this matter?
America has embraced food like never before. Just for starters,
witness the celebrity chef phenomenon and the proliferation
of food television. The truth is, we do care—and Sirio
is an engaging book about an extraordinary and multi-dimensional
man whose life story is, at times, part fairy-tale, part
fable, part history lesson and part old-fashioned gossip
collaborator, Peter Elliot, does a masterful job weaving
together the principal narrative supplied by the title character,
with abundant commentary from a who's who list of
friends, family, associates and admirers who know what makes
him tick. For instance, Elaine Kaufman:
you need to know about Sirio was that he was the hottest-looking
man in New York. He was a mover. Now, I'm not saying
that he did it with every one of them, but that it was important
that they all thought he did. And he knew how to control
that better than anyone in New York."
the book, is heartwarming, too. Sirio's, the man's,
roots and family are ever-present. And, while he may not
be humble, he is human. In the midst of incessant name-dropping,
(the Agnellis, the Reagans…the Pope) it's hard
to overlook his war-torn childhood and admirable tenacity,
or his bond with his wife, Egidiana, and his sons. Sadly,
too Sirio Maccioni is probably the last of his kind: With
old-school training and values from a classier time in our
history, it's likely we'll never see the likes
of Le Cirque's ringmaster again.
includes a scattering of recipes and black-and-white photographs
that complete the picture. The story of Sirio Maccioni is
about his native Montecantini, family, celebrity, food,
the restaurant business, and huge success. But mostly it's
about how one man becomes larger-than-life and builds his
perfect stage. It's where great chefs have emerged
and where restaurant history has been made. But without
the finesse, strength and personality of the man at the
front, without Maccioni, the stage would be empty.
by Kevin Schoeler
(Updated: 12/23/08 SB)