Nina S. Zagat Decorated as an Officier of the Légion d’Honneur
Dear Nina, Dear Tim,
Monsieur le Consul Général, Cher Bertrand, whom I’d like to thank for hosting us tonight in this consulate that is dear to my heart,
Monsieur le Conseiller à l’Assemblée des Français de l’Etranger, Cher Guy, who is also the President of the American Society of the French Legion of Honor,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s a great pleasure and privilege for my wife Sophie and for me to welcome you all to the French Consulate as we have gathered here this evening to honor our friend Nina Zagat, a very successful businesswoman, a close and long-time friend of France and an outstanding individual.
I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Nina’s family and friends who have joined us here this evening to express their support and admiration, with a very special word of gratitude to Tim Zagat, to whom I also want to pay tribute tonight, and your two sons Ted and John and their families.
I would also like to recognize the many world-renowned Chefs who are with us this evening, among them Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert – and it’s wonderful that Maguy Le Coze can also be with us, David Bouley, Daniel Humm, Philippe Vongerichten, Daniel Barber, André Soltner, Patrick O’Connell and several others whom I should also mention by name.
And I am glad to see other friends of Sophie’s and mine like Yves-André Istel, Kathy Wylde, Al Ross and Stanislas Vilgrain, the head of Cuisine Solutions, who has come especially from Washington, DC to be with us this evening.
Before preceeding with the ceremony itself, let me say a few words about the distinction that I will bestow upon Nina Zagat in a few minutes.
The Legion of Honor was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to reward extraordinary accomplishments and outstanding services rendered to France, based on a personal decision by the President of the French Republic.
It is France’s highest distinction and one of the most coveted in the world. And the President of France has decided to name you, Nina, to the rank of Officer (Officier), which is exceptional, illustrating France’s deep gratitude for your personal commitment to French-American friendship.
Ma Chère Nina,
You were born in 1942 in New York and you are in many respects a quintessential New Yorker – with a strong French touch. You excelled at Vassar College, one of the most prestigious of the “Seven Sisters”, earning your degree in history and economics, and then went on to study law at Yale University. It was while you were at Yale that you met your future husband, Tim Zagat.
And if I may, Tim is our co-hero tonight, as he and Nina are not only husband and wife but also one of the greatest team in New York and beyond.
Together you moved to Paris in 1968 – good choice! For three years, Shearman and Sterling, located on Rue Royale, a few steps from the Tuileries, benefited from your talents.
At the time, you were living in the heart of Saint-Germain, on rue de l’Odéon, known for its cafés, restaurants and theaters. You and Tim started compiling your own list of Parisian restaurants, both for your personal pleasure and your business dinners. The idea of a new kind of guide that would rate restaurants began to take shape in your mind. You created the “Guide of Guides,” a list of outstanding Parisian eateries, with reviews from your friends and excerpts from other guides. Thus was born the brilliant concept of the Zagat Survey that would conquer the world.
While in Paris, you took classes at the Cordon Bleu, whose ambassador you would become several years later. Your love for the French capital and French food remained one of your trademarks, and you continued to bring out the Paris guide as a hobby each year. In 1979, on the strength of your Paris experience, you launched your first survey of New York restaurants, covering about 100 local establishments and rated by 200 faithful reviewers.
In 1990, the Paris restaurant guide was expanded to include hotels, resorts and spas in France. Nearly 34 years later, the Zagat Survey boasts a global network of more than 400,000 reviewers who examine and rate restaurants, hotels and other leisure activities in more than 100 countries. What an incredible success story!
The Zagat Guide quickly became a must-have in the United States, and little by little in France and throughout Europe. In this way, you helped promote our culture, gastronomy and excellence worldwide. You have always been and still remain a dear friend of France, and a tireless promoter of French-American friendship, in good times as well as in challenging times. To mention only one example, in 2003 you actively opposed the boycott of French restaurants in the U.S.
You and your husband decided to hold a press conference with major American restaurateurs and wholeheartedly condemned the boycott. I am certain that your efforts played a major part in ending it – because nobody can say no to Nina, and even less so to Nina and Tim combined.
Ma chère Nina,
You have already received numerous awards: to take just a few examples, you were recognized as Entrepreneur of the Year by both Ernst & Young and the Harvard Business School in 2001, and were inducted into NYU’s Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame that same year. You are a distinguished member of the Culinary Institute of America and the prestigious James Beard Foundation, and you were named one of the 100 most influential women by Forbes in 2009.
Your books have received multiple awards and sell in the millions. Some of them will soon be translated into French and distributed in France. Your work and the Zagat restaurant guides have made you one of the most respected figures in the culinary world and one of the most influential advocates of French culture and gastronomy.
As such, and together with Tim, you are a wonderful and very talented ambassador of “art de vivre à la française”, as well as a bridge between our two countries that is second to none.
I would also like to touch on a facet of your personality that many of us may be less familiar with. Outside of the business world, dear Nina, you have always been dedicated to promoting France’s image in the U.S. through various charitable and cultural activities.
As a philanthropist, you have used the Zagat Survey to support a number of initiatives to combat hunger in the world and to develop projects relating to the culinary arts. To mention but a few, for many years you have actively supported Action Against Hunger, Meals on Wheels, Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) and The Culinary Institute of America (CIA)—and I believe these efforts say a lot about your and Tim’s outstanding human qualities.
In recognition of your exceptional merits and your exemplary commitment to French-American friendship, which is truly part of your DNA, the President of France decided to name you Officer of the Legion of Honor.
So it is an immense privilege and pleasure for me to bestow the insignia upon you this evening.
Nina Zagat, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous faisons Officier de la Légion d’Honneur./.