Masterchef S01 ep11: Charles Masson and Ian Scully, Le Grenouille Restaurant, [New York]
Interview with Charles Masson and Ian Scully
MASSON:Salvador Dali once commented to my father 'Mr. Masson you throw the money out the windows but it comes back to you through the doors'
SCULLY: I read about the London Chefs in cook books and magazines and Chef Michel Bourdain inspired me the most. After four years of hotel school, I went to the Connaught in person and met with Michel and ten days later the only position they had was in the Pastry and as a second Commis so I started in the pastry. I was then at the Ritz after the Connaught where I was the number 2 Chef for two years.
KM: What's the story of La Grenouille?
Charles Masson: My father worked in restaurants all his life, his mother was a
great chef in Belford and had a beautiful restaurant in Belford and they moved
to this country... my father first in 1930 for the World Fair and when the war
broke out they were asked to stay.
After the war my father decided he wanted to stay here and he helped open
the Pavillon which was arguably the greatest French Restaurant that opened in
KM: IN New York?
Yes, in New York,
KM: When was this?
This was 1944 and then when he decided to open up with La Cote Basque he
moved the Pavion to 57th Street. The painter who did the murals for La Cote
Basque was Bernard LaMotte who lived in this building.
I remember I was a child and we were really broke back then and my mother
had this image and she found this place which have previously been several
restaurants down stairs so my mother decided to go ahead and do this very
boldly, and took a lot of risks to put a down payment down, and sent a
telegram to my father who was on the ship then....
KM: The Cruise ship?
Saying congratulations you are the owner of three east 52nd Street
KM: When did you join the staff of Le Grenouille?
I joined when my father suddenly passed away, he died, while I was studying
design and painting at Carnegie Melon
My father had decided that idle time was not good and during the summer
vacations I was more often than not sent over to various places in Europe.
Finally when I was 17 I had the courage to tell my father that this is really not
what I want to do and he was understanding. He said you know this is going
to sound strange to you but this is not what I wanted to do either, and if years
ago someone had told me you will have a restaurant I would have said, I don't
think so. So thing happen sometimes in life and you best be prepared, and I
just want you to be prepared, whatever you do I just want you to be happy. So
I said I would like to work one summer for design, so he said fine. He found
me a designer client here who was David Webb, the jewellery designer,
I was just supposed to go there for 2 or 3 days,
KM: Yes, Were you specifically interested in designing jewellery?
No not at all, I think it was a trick my father played on me, he was hoping that I would be discourage quickly. John Oliver who was 82 years old, was chief
designer, with long white hair and chain smoking, gave me something to draw.
Here take this and draw this and then he looked at it and said this is very good.
He was very encouraging. Afterwards we had a little drink at his house and he
gave me a stack of books and said I want you to look at these and I want you
tomorrow - this is your project, to do a brochure, to do a necklace and so forth.
So he gave me the whole thing and the next day I did these drawings,
according to the technique he showed me and he said wait here and he went
to David's office and David came back and they looked at these, they were
both smoking, and with their glasses here and just smoking and said "did you
draw these?" I said yes, well you can stay here longer then. Oh I am sorry, we
better move the table.
So Bernard came back to pay a visit to this new restaurant which incidentally
was called La Grenouille because it was a pet name that my father gave to it.
My father who had known Bernard La Motte just vaguely reappears on the
steps of the restaurant and tells my father what are you doing in my house. He
had no idea.
KM: When was this?
This was when he opened in 1962. So he came back quite frequently and he
became a very dear friend, a mentor of mine, because he taught my father a
lot about painting, he taught me a lot about painting which has always been my
KM: What are you looking for out of your chef? Why did you pick Ian Scully?
I think when you meet someone and you have this sense when you speak to
someone, and you speak about the various meals you would like to have and
even when you have dinner with someone there is a lot of revelations. I felt
that this was a young artist who was about to blossom anytime - he is
KM: Why are you a chef?
Ian Scully: I love cooking it is something that I have always loved, as a child I
always loved eating and it was a natural progression for me to move on into
When I was 13/14 years old I had a weekend job, like most chef's did whilst
they were at school in the kitchen, washing up, washing dishes.
KM: A kitchen hand!
Yes, in North East London where I grew up.
KM: At what point did you understand that there was more to it?
By reading a lot of cook books, being interested in cheffing as a profession,
following the London Chefs
KM: Who was the chef that did it for you?
I would say Michel Bourdian
I then went to college and university for 4 years and did a degree in Hotel
I went to the Connaught in person and met with Michel Bourdian, and ten days
later the only position they had was in the Pastry and as a second Commis
and I started in the pastry.
I came from France and got the job over here.
KM: Where were you in France?
I was just outside of Lyon for one year.
KM: Working for...
The Chef of the Bellion
KM: So you were there for a year after working at the Connaught?
I was then at the Ritz after the Connaught - I was no. 2 there for two years, the
executive chef at the Ritz was the executive sous chef at the Connaught,
hence the connection there.
Charles Masson: One of my classmates a very dear friend of mine is James
Warhola an illustrator who is a nephew of Andy Warhol and when I met Andy
Warhol the first time, I was on a winter break. James came back from
Pittsburgh to visit me in New York and we went to visit his factory . Of course
he was larger than life and oddly enough I did see Andy Warhol later as a
client here and he would come in here quite often and as you said a social
butterfly, he just loved taking shots of seeing people, having dinner or lunch
here, it was a theatre to him, just the same way that when Bernard La Motte
came in here he called this a theatre. You touch on Salvador Dali he used to
come here quite a lot
KM: You’re kidding?
He loved my father, had always his table and enjoyed the theatre of the
restaurant and once commented to my father on his exuberance and his
generosity and excess. He said Mr. Masson you throw the money out the
windows but it comes back to you through the doors.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE:Charles Masson and Ian Scully, Le Grenouille Restaurant, [New York]