Under chef Christopher Lee, Chris Wilgos worked his way up from a runner to a captain at Philadelphia’s premier restaurant, the Striped Bass. When Lee replaced chef Paul Liebrandt at Gilt about a year ago, Wilgos followed. He’s been waiting tables and acting here ever since. We asked him about his wealthy clientele and those who yearn for Le Cirque.
Do people ask about Paul Liebrandt, the departed chef?
Stephen Starr hired Paul Liebrandt to replace Christopher Lee at the Striped Bass. They called it “chef swap.”
When you came on, did you hear good stories about Liebrandt?
Supposedly one of the line cooks [at the Striped Bass] was cutting lemons and he made too many. Supposedly [Liebrandt] was like, “Eat the whole lemon or you’re fired.”
Do people tell you they remember the place from when it was Le Cirque?
Every day. The response is, “They’ve taken down all the fabrics and now you can see how it really is.” Le Cirque was known as a place for being seen and being the place to be. Now it’s getting back to the food and the sharp and comfortable service.
What’s the advantage of the five-course tasting menu versus the seven-course?
The seven-course is not a set menu. The waiter and the guest have a conversation about what they like or don’t like; then chef creates a spontaneous menu on the spot. If it’s a two-person table, they’ll each get different dishes each course.
What’s the most lavish spending you’ve seen?
One of my regulars will spend $1,500 on a half-bottle of ’82 Mouton. One of my regulars came in and spent almost $13,000 mostly on wine — all these ’82 Petrus, ’82 Mouton. You see the rich people who come in with bodyguards. You don’t even know who they are; they’re that rich.
What’s it like serving more traditional diners?
The old New Yorkers say [Wasp accent], “We ate here every week when it was Le Cirque. Sirio was a very good friend of ours.” The older clientele will say, “Oh, the music is a bit rowdy tonight.” It’s like, “No, we’re fun. We can of course change it for you — there’s some classical on the other iPod … I mean on the other CD!”