Monday, October 25, 2010

Bill ate here

It may sound improbable, given the junk-food associations once attached to the man’s name, but few phrases are more bankable to restaurants around the world than this: “Bill Clinton ate here.”

Somehow, the 42nd president has become an arbiter of international fine dining, conferring a sort of informal Michelin star just by showing up. He is doing for restaurants around the world what George Washington once did in America for places to sleep. ...

It’s widely (and correctly) assumed that he has good connections everywhere he visits, so he’s unlikely to wind up at a dud. More than most celebrities, he seems like a person who appreciates good food, and before he had heart surgery, he was known for his wide-ranging appetite. ...

Managers and owners from Beijing to Iceland and points between say an appearance by Mr. Clinton can be transformational, launching an obscure restaurant to fame and cementing the reputation of well-known favorites. Best of all, the imprimatur seems to last for years.

“We had 25 people from Sweden in here last night,” says Detlef Obermuller, owner of Gugelhof, a Berlin restaurant that was host to Mr. Clinton and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2000.

“I asked one of them, ‘How do you know about this place?’ ” Mr. Obermuller said. “And she took out a newspaper clipping out of her pocket. I can’t read Swedish, but she told me it was all about Bill Clinton eating here. And that meal was a decade ago.” ...

Mr. Clinton never asked to be the foreign restaurant anointer in chief, but because he has the job, a glaring irony must be noted: He doesn’t research where he eats. In fact, he rarely chooses the restaurants. ...

Good fortune, it seems, plays a surprisingly large role in the Bill Clinton international restaurant sweepstakes. Mr. Clinton helped a hot dog stand in Reykjavik called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur achieve worldwide acclaim after he stopped there during a visit to Iceland in 2004. But the ex-president nearly walked right by.

“I have this nice older woman who has been working for me for 30 years, and she saw Clinton, and she just shouted at him to stop and try one of our hot dogs,” said Gudrun Kristmundottir, the stand’s owner. “And he did.”

The next day, TV reporters and newspapers from all over the world were calling. And in 2006, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (“city’s best hot dogs” in Icelandic) turned up on a list of the five best European food stalls in The Guardian newspaper in England. Inevitably, Mr. Clinton’s stop was noted.
--David Segal, NYT, on how I came to have a great Icelandic hot dog

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