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Joseph Baum Dies; Taught America to Dine

October 07, 1998|LAURIE OCHOA

New York restaurateur Joseph Baum died Monday of prostate cancer at the age of 78. And though he wasn't well-known in Los Angeles, his version of the Rainbow Room, opened in 1988 at the top of Rockefeller Center, was, as this paper's restaurant critic wrote at the time, "the perfect Hollywood restaurant." Even its $25-million renovation budget was movie-sized--it was said in 1988 to be the most expensive restaurant ever built in the U.S.

Baum was a force in the late '80s revival of the cocktail and was probably the individual most responsible for the concept of dining as theater. He is also credited--for better and for worse--as the father of the American theme restaurant. Before there was Planet Hollywood, there was the decidedly more upscale Forum of the 12 Caesars.

The restaurant for which he is most known--opened in 1959 during his long tenure in the '50s, '60s and '70s with Restaurant Associates--is the Four Seasons. Its food is considered one of the influences of what became known as New American Cuisine; its customers (Henry Kissinger and other VIPs) made it the place to be seen and to do business.

Baum was set to pass on control of the Rainbow Room to another company next year. And trend-setting to the end, Baum was beginning to integrate sustainable agriculture and other environmentally friendly business practices into Windows on the World and the more than 100 other restaurants he and his partners ran.

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