Falling Stars

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Add to the list Alain Ducasse, a French three-star chef who came to Manhattan in 2000 and opened a restaurant so effete, he gave his well-heeled guests—who were willing to pay in excess of $300 for a meal—a choice of fine silverware, and provided special footstools for ladies to rest their handbags on. (At least Ducasse has an excuse—as a tourist-dependent establishment, the restaurant Alain Ducasse suffered disproportionately from the 9/11 attacks and subsequent severe economic downturn.)

And Govind Armstrong, a vaunted Los Angeles chef who opened a branch of his Table 8 in the new Cooper Square Hotel, only to have it close within a year. According to Wolf, “Govind was a bit arrogant, got smacked by the economy, and didn't know—as others have discovered—that L.A. doesn't translate well to most anywhere else.”

Next up in the same hotel space was Scott Conant, a homegrown New York chef who had enjoyed a stunning string of successes in various parts of Manhattan that included L’Impero, Alto, and Scarpetta. After less than one year, he was also out on his ear, telling the Times’ Florence Fabricant that the management of the restaurant had decided to make a go of the space without any celebrity chef at all.

Is celebrity chefdom doomed?

Maybe not. Going down in flames is an experience that every person who achieves celebrity chef status has experienced at one time or another. According to Wolf, “Every top chef has had a bomb or two.” And Barton chimes in, “Overall, to me, a chef's drive and passion will keep him up no matter how many times he is knocked down.”

Robert Sietsema has been restaurant critic at the Village Voice since 1993. He's also freelanced for Gourmet, Maxim, and the Columbia Journalism Review, published four books of restaurant criticism, and been nominated for two James Beard Awards. Sietsema lives in Greenwich Village.

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