The restaurant world is fueled by shadowy PR organizations, a culinary world version of the Office of Strategic Influence. These buzz-building machines, invisible to your average diner, are responsible for much of what you eat, how long you wait to eat it and just how long you'll eat it for.
Susan Magrino doesn't have an extensive roster of restaurants but the ones she does have, or did have, accounted for no less than 10 NYT stars, an impressive 2.5 average. Ms. Magrino's client list reads like a culinary boldface names: Alain Ducasse, Mario Batali, Gordon Ramsay. (Sadly at least two of these names have flown a little too close to the sun recently.)
Magrino started her career off in publishing before making the switch to PR to launch O magazine AND Celine Dion's personal fragrance, "Coty." These days her company has clients in the far ranging fields as travel, luxury, publishing and, of course, food. It is to the last family we turn our attention. Magrino's three clients (excluding Le Cirque) consist of Mario Batali's Del Posto, Gordon Ramsay's Gordon Ramsay and what was until recently Alain Ducasse at the Essex House.
In 2006, Alain Ducasse received 3 stars from the Michelin Guide (another Magrino client) but that's where the story goes awry. After the breathless multiple star petit mort, a harsher reality set in. Bruni downgraded the restaurant to a "mere" three stars and soon, Ducasse's New York flagship was in the merde. Ducasse picked up and shipped out on December 31st, 2006, thus forfeiting his chance to be starred in the 2006 Michelin guide. And, as of now, Ducasse is a restaurant only in the memory of a few foodie minds. 1 down, 2 to go.
The next Magrino restaurant that deserves examination is Gordon Ramsay at the London, the insanely hyped American outpost of Gordon Ramsay. As has been much noted, in short, the restaurant is good, not great. And, by all accounts, and especially as compared to the fiery loins from which it sprung, boring. Bruni breezed through, writing, "And seldom has a conquistador as bellicose as Mr. Ramsay landed with such a whisper. It's not an unappealing sound, but it's nothing that's going to prick up your ears." Thusly did Ramsay's descent into madness start.
Soon thereafter, he fired his long time lieutenant Neil Ferguson. Bill Buford ends his maddeningly hagiographic bio of Ramsay in the New Yorker with this sad scene
"When I came here," Ramsay told me, "I expected to get kicked in the nuts. I have been. I have also been knocked down." He seemed subdued, vulnerable, confused. He asked his wife to fly out from London. He was lonely. America was turning out to be such an elusive, difficult country.
The last of the semi-permanent clients on Magrino's list (again, not counting Le Cirque, a troubled bird's nest if ever there was one) is her most successful. Mario Batali's Del Posto had a troubled beginning. Construction woes, a weird, large and out of the way space, bald men with small penises, you name it.
But how long can anything attached to that hefty last name founder? Within a year, Del Posto had collected 6 stars, 2 Michelin and 3 Timesian. And with the opening of the Enoteca at Del Posto, it has been high on the lists of many critics. But one must wonder if it is due to or despite Magrino's efforts that Del Posto has survived.
As Eater points out, the Suzie Magrino school of PR involves a lot of
scapegoating high-level personnel changes. Neil Ferguson got booted from Ramsay, Chef de Cuisine Christian DeLouvrier was ousted from Ducasse and Pier Schaedelin left at the train depot when Le Cirque left town. So what commends Magrino to the hearts and wallets of some of New York's biggest names? Clearly the length and loveliness of her fingers and the varied pies in which she sticks them must have something to do with the decision. It is no surprise Michelin bestowed 2 unlikely stars upon Del Posto. And surely the fact that Ms. Magrino reps numerous publications like Reader's Digest and Harper's Bazaar and some rag by a homemaker named Martha Stewart can't hurt her restaurant clients. Or that her husband, Jim Dunning, is the president of Doubledown media, a boutique publisher of magazines for the superrich. But in the end, the loss of stars speaks for itself, leaving her clients subdued, vulnerable, confused.