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Sirio

The Story of My Life and Le Cirque
By Sirio Maccioni and Peter Elliot
(John Wiley and Sons, Inc., May 2004)

Sirio: The Story of My Life and Le Cirque

"Maybe 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.

Will 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.

Actually 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.

Former President Clinton with the Maccioni Family

His 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.

Maccioni 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.

So, 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?

Mainstream 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 column.

Maccioni's 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:

"All 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."

Sirio, 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.

Sirio 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.

Reviewed by Kevin Schoeler


(Updated: 12/23/08 SB)


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