Michael McCarty was to the manner born. The family manor wasn’t bad either—it slept 25 and stood next to Mary Astor’s home in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. His mother sometimes ordered as many as 200 lobsters for weekend guests who would arrive in limousines with curtains and tinted glass.
It followed that when McCarty, now 27, became a restaurateur, he would cater to the carriage trade. In Santa Monica, Calif., where he opened Michael’s 19 months ago, that means customers like Robert DeNiro, James Garner, Laurence Olivier, Sidney Poitier, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner. They may dine on sliced squab with raspberries or baby scallops in lime sauce. Barbra Streisand is more likely to order three hors d’oeuvres and four desserts and call it a night. Mel Brooks asks Michael to match dinners to Brooks’ wine collection. Neil Diamond books McCarty for his annual clambake in Malibu.
Catering has become a lucrative sideline for McCarty. Last month, when oil tycoon Tom Jordan invited 50 for a weekend feast at his small Sonoma winery, Michael was summoned. Jordan’s wine marketing director, Melvyn Master, explains, “We needed someone to orchestrate the thing, not just stand in the kitchen and cook.”
McCarty and a crew of seven flew in on a chartered plane and regaled the visitors (who included Danny Kaye, James Beard, food critic Gael Greene and author Paul Erdman) with such dishes as charbroiled quail with thyme-flavored potato slices, lambs’ lettuce with sautéed oyster mushrooms and pine nuts, and pasta with crayfish and three caviars. Ordinarily, the bill for such a blowout would be $50,000, but because they’re good friends McCarty dropped his $25,000 personal fee.
Good food is something that Michael has never been without. His father was head of labor relations for General Electric when Michael was a child. His parents “entertained to the maximum,” he recalls. “Often 16 for dinner and four-day bashes for 125.” They never used any caterers, but hired servants for parties and leaned on their “team” of four boys.
McCarty attended Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., and became acquainted with French cuisine at 15 as an exchange student with a family in Brittany. After Hill, he enrolled at the University of Colorado but a year later was back in Paris, attending the Cordon Bleu. “It was time to put the show on the road,” McCarty says. “I knew what I wanted to do.”
He practiced his skills in a five-room penthouse apartment on the lie Saint-Louis. One Thanksgiving he invited 55 people to dinner. In 1975 he returned to Colorado to teach a French-language course in cooking while completing his bachelor’s degree in the business and art of gastronomy. McCarty moved to a Malibu cliff house in 1976 and, while running a duck farm on the side, began raising the $500,000 he needed to open his place.
To save money, he designed and built all the modern furniture for the 100-seat establishment. Then he ordered $20,000 worth of Christofle silverware (which is counted every night after closing). He originally clad his waiters in pink-and-mauve Calvin Klein suits and spent $150,000 on artwork by Jasper Johns, David Hockney and Frank Stella. “This isn’t excess,” he says with a sweep of his hand. “It’s attention to detail.”
Michael’s is not for everyone. Dinner for two costs from $120 to $150. “People who are successful usually demand the best, and that’s why they come here,” McCarty maintains. “We are not a maintenance restaurant. If you’re just hungry, go elsewhere.”