Jim Poris / November 1999
Food Arts presents the November 1999 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Bruno Tison, the dynamic chef who has established the food program at The Plaza Hotel in New York City as a paradigm for the hotel industry. If spying can be viewed as a form of esteem, then Tison must be flattered by the stream of hotel executives who stay at The Plaza—the better to see how he balances affairs in 23 banquet rooms, a megabrunch on Sundays, and tea for two or 200 in the famed Palm Court.
"Bruno's a stickler for detail and possesses incredible focus and pride in his work," says Mark Huntley, general manager of The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and former f&b director of The Plaza. "He's very determined to get things done. Hotels can be difficult, what with the politics and too many people getting between the chef and the food. Bruno can sort through all that."
It was Huntley who, in 1989, persuaded Tison to forgo a tempting partnership deal at a top restaurant and hang on as chef at The Palm Court, a job Tison had taken six months before because "[Donald] Trump paid well and it was near my apartment." In no time flat, Tison moved from a salads-and-sandwiches position "that was below my talents" to executive chef—at age 30, the youngest ever to hold the position at The Plaza.
"I love it at The Plaza," declares Tison, now 40. "I cook for the most important people in the world. They eat at Daniel or Jean Georges, then they come to me and say, 'I ate such and such, and I would like you to do that for 800 people.' It's a challenge."
Tison is more than up to the task. Exporting Plaza wedding concepts, including elaborate dinners and cakes, to Japan: no problem. Cooking for emirs, sheiks, plutocrats, aristocrats, fat cats, and hepcat actors: no sweat. Pulling off fab food for 1,400 at Time magazine's all-world celeb 75th anniversary bash: easy as pie. Setting up fetching food displays or teaming with Eric Gouteyron, The Plaza's nonpareil pastry chef, on sybaritic dessert buffets: done with pleasure.
"A lot of people think large hotels produce lousy food," says Tison, a native of French Flanders who worked his way up through the Michelin three-star kitchens of Roger Vergé, Michel Guérard, and the late Alain Chapel before winding up at Ernie's in San Francisco and Beau Geste in New York City in the mid-'80s. "In 10 years, I've tried to promote The Plaza's name and represent it as a quality place for wonderful food. I'd like people to know that even in a famous landmark hotel like The Plaza, where we serve so many people, it's still possible to serve great food."
Nearly $40 million in annual food sales at The Plaza backs Tison's performance. Says Daniel Boulud, who teamed with Tison on the Time blowout: "I not only admire Bruno's talents as a chef but respect him as a gentleman as well. For the position he has, working at one of the greatest hotels in America, Bruno is certainly in the forefront." Those words speak volumes about the chef who spins volume into golden moments for his guests.