By Geoffrey Zakarian
1987 was truly the year that I was able to launch my career. At the time, the dining landscape in Manhattan was worlds away from what exists today. There were restaurants dotted throughout the city with notable ones serving traditional high-end French or Italian cuisine.
Having trained in New York under great chefs for about six years, I was offered the Executive Chef position at what would become 44 at The Royalton. 44th Street was the dregs, not far off from seedy Times Square, and the building was operating as a flop house. Somehow, Ian Schrager and Phillipe Starck had this razor sharp vision to transform a ratty venue into the birthplace of the “boutique hotel” as we know it today.
I remember my hesitation because the designs showed no exterior signage and a dining room that would be all the way in the back, essentially on 43rd street, making it a full block walk once you entered the building.
Although I struggled with the notion of dipping into uncertain waters, their bold enthusiasm and aggressive creativity got to me. I jumped in headfirst. As a team, we nailed it, and both the hotel and the restaurant were on fire. It was the hottest table in town with every nook and cranny of the lobby and the dining room filled with people eating. Today, I still have guests request dishes from the 44 menu.
I feel like the luckiest guy alive to have been right at the start of it. Usually the rule is the pioneers always get shot, but with our gamble 25 years ago on 44th street, we all certainly ended up okay. Cheers to 1987, Resident Magazine and the amazing restaurant city that New York has become! •