In 1988, Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, the Redskins were Super Bowl champs, and the new German band Milli Vanilli released its first album in Europe.
And on Nov. 18, 1988, the brash 27-year-old chef Charlie Palmer opened Aureole, his monument to modern American fine dining, in an elegant townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “My dream was to create, what I termed at the time, the American Lutèce,” he recently told me. “When you think about it, the townhouse was very much like Lutèce, which at that point in culinary history was considered, probably, if not the best French restaurant, then one of the top three French restaurants. And at that time French restaurants [in New York] were the thing.”
Palmer had grown up in upstate New York and had trained at the Culinary Institute of America before cooking at the acclaimed River Café located on an old barge docked on the Brooklyn side of the East River.
However, Palmer admits that the late ’80s was far from an ideal time to launch a new restaurant. “We opened Aurole just after the stock market crash of ’87 and people were saying ‘you’re opening a high-end restaurant in the middle of New York in the worst economy in 25 years?’ And I really felt, and always felt, if we do something special and we’re passionate about it and we work well as a team we’re going to be successful. It’s just a matter of what level of success. And I continue to believe that.”
While 1988 certainly feels longer than 30 years ago, especially for Milli Vanilli fans, Aureole is still going strong having moved to a larger space nine year ago in the Bank America Tower overlooking Bryant Park. Palmer now also runs an empire of restaurants and hotels around the country.
Read on for some images and memories from Chef Palmer from the last 30 years.