“Salt and pepper were his key seasoning ingredients,” Ms. Sailhac said in a telephone interview. “He believed dishes should be very simple, using the best ingredients and prepared with love. He used to say, ‘When you hear food cooking, you can hear it singing.’ It’s like it was talking to him.”
From 1978 to 1986, Mr. Sailhac and his team spun out a vast array of French and Italian concoctions at Le Cirque, Sirio Maccioni’s clubhouse for the powerful and fabulous in the Mayfair Hotel on Park Avenue. It enchanted presidents and royals, Hollywood stars, cover models and social doyennes, at “the beginning of the era of dining out as theater and intrigue, when restaurants were not just a place to have lunch,” the New York magazine restaurant critic Gael Greene once noted.
At times, royalty deferred to him. On one visit, King Juan Carlos I of Spain kept referring to Mr. Sailhac as “Chef Sailhac,” Ms. Sailhac said. “No, please call me Alain,” the chef said. “Well then, just call me Juan Carlos,” the king responded.
Richard Nixon was such a fan of Mr. Sailhac’s stuffed Dover sole, she added, that Mr. Sailhac christened it Sole Richard Nixon — at least when serving it to the former president, Ms. Sailhac said.
For all the cool elegance on display in the dining room, the kitchen was one of controlled frenzy. “I lovingly refer to Le Cirque as haute cuisine boot camp,” Mr. Brennan said.
Yet, Mr. Sailhac maintained order with the patient air of a professor. “First and foremost, he was a remarkable and gentle teacher,” Mr. Zakarian said. Le Cirque, he added, “was really a food university posing as a restaurant.”