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What did that teach you?
It taught me what Ive always known: If you dont ask you dont get. And thats the philosophy Ive lived by. The greatest answer you can get is a no because its a starting place. I always say that to students I speak with. No is a beginning. Even today when Im pitching new business, if I get a no, I say thats fine. What about this instead? And Ill keep coming back until theyve had enough of me.
Today, whats it like to be Lee Schrager walking into a restaurant?
It certainly doesnt hurt to be me if youre trying to get a table somewhere. Although, I just went to Thailand for New Years Eve and there was one great restaurant I had trouble getting into. When I called on my own for a reservation nothing. Then I wrote to the manager of the hotel where the restaurant is located, and he couldnt help me either. I wrote to the restaurants public relations person, who answered saying he was sorry but there was nothing he could do. I finally wrote him back a funny email saying normally people anywhere in the world want me to come in and visit and talk with them about what I do. He wrote me the next day and confirmed the reservation.
You once said: When I started, I didnt know what the hell I was doing, but Im never insulted by feedback. A lot of times its BS, but 50 percent of the time you get something out of it. Whats the best piece of advice youve ever received?
If you always do what youve always done youll always get what you always got. Its something I think about everyday. I never want to do the same thing. I always want to keep doing different things. There are a lot of great food and wine and hospitality events around the country, but whats different about what I do is the ability to bring together the greatest names in the food and wine worldand change it up every single year.
Why do food and drink speak to you so deeply?
Because they bring people to the table. When you think of happy occasions in your life, or even sad ones, just about everything happens over a meal. Whether its a special anniversary, a daughters sweet 16, a bar mitzvah, a funeral or a Shiva call, food is the common denominator that brings us all to the table. We all cant wear high fashion, and not everybody cares about going to a golf tournament or playing tennis. But we all care about eating and enjoying a drink.
Whats your favorite new thing at this years festival? I love that Ziggy Marley is coming! And Trisha Yearwood! And that were honoring the great Nobu, whos been part of the festival since year one. But I especially love all the new talent. People sometimes say to me, we dont know anyone cooking at this festival. And my answer is: Well, guess what? Remember them because in two years theyre going to be at the helm of one of the great restaurants or on the Food Network. Mark my word.
A final question, in the spirit of the Pivot questionnaire: If heaven exists, what would you like God to say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
We have your table waiting