A fawning biography of the restaurateur who brought glitzy haute cuisine to New York.
The creator of the Four Seasons, the Rainbow Room, Raffles, and the Sherry Netherland, Brody was a tireless worker who pioneered the notion of the gourmet concept restaurant in America. His was the world of the two-martini lunch, an era former publishing executive Freundlich captures well. Tales of President Kennedy arriving at the Four Seasons in a convertible, with the top down and without police escort, hearken back to a simpler time when a lone man could build an empire of restaurants on the force of his charisma and the fame of his patrons. Brody’s genius was to always have someone else pay for the space. In the case of the Four Seasons, the Seagram Company owned the building; Brody designed, marketed, and operated the restaurant in it. After a study into his initial success, the book flags. In later chapters, readers will sense Brody, who is still alive, hovering over the biographer’s shoulder. Freundlich always casts his subject in a heroic mold. While he mentions setbacks, never once does he give voice to anyone who might criticize Brody. As a result, the story reads like a feel-good television biopic. Brody lost nearly everything in a divorce from his first wife, whose relatives took back Restaurant Associates, the arm of the family business they had appointed him to oversee. But after marrying again, he re-ignited his restaurant career by buying Gallagher’s steakhouse and, in a new turn, dabbling in Angus breeding. The last chapters are devoted almost entirely to Brody’s other luxury purchases: a yacht, a ranch, thoroughbred racing horses, and more. Armchair collectors will vicariously enjoy Brody’s conspicuous consumption, but the drama associated with these purchases doesn’t equal the importance proclaimed in portentous sentences like, “The large price and the quick decision took courage.”
Initially solid case study of American business degenerates into a vanity publication.