February 21, 1977 12:00 PM

What the French Countess Marina de Brantes wished to create on Manhattan’s East Side was “a tiny Maxim’s: very chic, very understated, a place where the right mixture of people could enjoy themselves with a sense of security.”

The result is Le Coup de Fusil; which means, literally, “the gunshot,” but whose slang definition, “overcharging,” is part of the charm. (Prices are indeed high but fair.) The clientele includes Jackie and sister Lee Radziwill, Cyrus Vance, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal and gastronome James Beard. And if seating is elbow to elbow in the 18-by-40-foot dining room, nobody seems to care.

Le Coup owes its success not only to its style and cuisine but also to its chic blond proprietor, 37. Countess Marina is aided by an appreciation of fine food, gourmet cooking skills and impressive connections back home. She happens to be a sister-in-law of French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

“Well, what’s wrong with being the talk of both New York and Paris?” she asks, insisting, however, that égalité is a working principle at Le Coup. “We treat everyone equally here,” she says. “But no amount of atmosphere will bring people if the food is bad. It must be superb.”

It is. Moreover, Le Coup is Manhattan’s first restaurant to offer (at lunch only) the nouvelle cuisine diététique—low-calorie dishes made without the butter and cream of classic French cooking. The caloric count of each item is discreetly printed on the menu next to the price.

The restaurant’s gastronomic success is the work of two French chefs, both in their 20s and former students of the famed Michel Guérard (PEOPLE, Sept. 15, 1975). The head chef is Jean Pierre Lauret, chosen by Marina and partner Ludovic Autet without so much as sampling his dishes. Says the countess, “He had the look of someone who knew about food: quiet and secure.” The assistant chef is Christian Marteau, whose job is to supervise lunch.

“In France food is a way of expressing joy, happiness, everything that is pleasurable,” explains the countess, who learned to cook as a child in France and is urging a similar education upon her three teenage children. Schooled on the Continent and in England, she returned to Paris and married a young banker, Count Guy de Brantes, in 1959. Twelve years ago the couple moved to New York, and de Brantes became financial director of Diane von Furstenberg’s clothing empire. Meanwhile his wife “ran a lot of charities.” To serve one benefit dinner for 1,400, Mme. de Brantes hired Autet, then catering director at Le Nôtre. When that restaurant closed, Autet and the countess set up a catering business in her home, based on Marina’s recipes.

Today she teaches cooking classes and supervises the catering service on the second floor above Le Coup. “I love the ambience,” she says. “It’s partly because the staff is under 30; we’re not blasé, we want to discover.”

In the future, Marina de Brantes foresees restaurants in Palm Beach and Southampton. “I never want to bore people,” she says, “so I never stop planning.”

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