Allegrini 2018

Goodbye to Sirio Maccioni, the father of the great Italian restaurant in the U.S.A.

The memory of Gianni Mercatali: “he was unique. He brought Italian cuisine and great Italian wine to Manhattan, starting with a French restaurant”

From Montecatini to Manhattan, in the 1970s, the step was not so short. Yet Sirio Maccioni did so, and on 65th Street in New York’s most famous neighborhood, he founded his “Le Cirque”, a restaurant that marked an era, serving all the greatest American stars, presidents, statesmen and even Papa Giovanni Paolo II. A leader of the Italian cuisine in the world, Maccioni, who died in his Montecatini, at the age of 88, after having brought great Italian cuisine and great Italian wine to the center of attention in the USA, as a pioneer. And, to WineNews, Gianni Mercatali, one of the great storytellers and tireless worker of the Italian catering world, and a great and true friend of Maccioni’s, remembers him. A frank and sincere man, but also humble, despite a life of absolute success: “cooking is either good or bad. And I still go to restaurants to learn something,” Maccioni said in an interview to WineNews a few years ago.

“We were very close friends, in remembering him during these hours, my voice broke several times. He is a friend who is missing. He was the person, I say it with the heart, who best of all told the Italian excellence in Manhattan, where he brought the great Italian wines, the Italian home cooking, with the great quality of the products. And the curious thing is that he managed to do all this in a restaurant that had a French name, “Le Cirque”. On the other hand, when he opened in 1974, the menu was all French, and the wines included. And Italian cuisine in America was, basically, pizza and wine in the flask. He managed to become “Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque”, then he started to put Tuscany and Italy on the menu, and consequently great wines. His restaurant was a sort of “embassy”, or “Italian consulate” in the United States, it was a restaurant that was a “circus” where he was the tamer, and his customers were friends, first of all, one felt at the home of Sirio Maccioni. To know the great man Sirius Maccioni, the best experience was to be able to go for lunch or dinner in his house in Montecatini, in his garden and his kitchen, with 80-90 guests, with his wife Egidiana - a great cook but even before that a great opera singer, who gave up her artistic career to be with Sirio and give him three wonderful children.
We met people like Woody Allen, who came to eat Egidiana’s fried food, Robert De Niro who went crazy for his “tordelli”, and who wanted to celebrate his 60th birthday there, where we brought him Bocelli, who duet on New York New York with Egidia, to surprise him. There were guests from the greatest chefs in the world, such as Ducasse and Marchesi. He was great, in his restaurant he knew how to treat guests like no other. Just think that one evening, at the same time, at his tables there were four ex-presidents of the United States (George and George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, but many of those passed from his tables, from Clinton to Nixon). And a star like Frank Sinatra, to name one, always wanted the same table. The great Paul Bocuse, I remember, put on the menu of his restaurants, among the desserts, the creme brulée by Le Cirque by Sirio Maccioni, was a must, like other great dishes, such as the “salad de mar”, lobster from Maine, Foie Gras with Sauternes. And then it became the Italian pasta, the “tajerini primavera”, ravioli, and many other dishes. Sirio has always been unique, and the restaurant has made an epoch”. Able to tell Italian cuisine in America. So much so that, in 2014, he received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the James Beard Foundation, considered the “Academy of Oscars” of catering in the USA.

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