A murder mystery
Looking up on 23rd and Park Avenue South. 4:05 PM. Photo: JH.
The mysterious murder of the mysterious Edouard Stern. Last Tuesday night in Geneva, the fifty-year-old international investment banker Edouard Stern was shot twice in the head and once in the back in his fifth-floor penthouse apartment. Although the murderer remains at large amazingly, the ground floor of Mr. Stern’s building housed a police station, and the entrances to the building were equipped with security cameras.

Edouard Stern (Sipa)
Stern's body was discovered Wednesday when he didn’t show up for meetings and business associates contacted his housekeeper to gain access to his apartment. When they found the body, he was wearing a latex rubber body suit. This costume immediately led the European newspapers to assume it may have been a homicide related to sadomasochistic activities (he was not a surfer).

It was also reported that the authorities believe the banker might have been a victim of an assassinat – a premeditated killing. Mr. Stern was known to have, according to one source, a long list of powerful enemies in his personal and professional life, “all capable of hiring the best assassins," There had been rumors in Geneva that he’d recently lost a lot of money through bad investments in eastern Europe and Russia, and that the losses infuriated him although he also felt “to be under threat.”

Investigators are not ruling out the possibility that the assailant or assailants also put him in the rubber suit after he’d been shot to distract the intent of the crime. Some news reports alluded to a Russian mafia hit.

The handsome Mr. Stern was the scion of an old French banking family whose business, Banque Stern, dates back to the first quarter of the 19th century. Once regarded as an enfant terrible, with an indulgent mother, he was a child with a difficult, even harsh disposition at times. As the son of a father of high German Jewish background, comparable to the Rothschilds, and a Catholic mother, the boy grew up in a life of privilege in a Paris mansion and a European education. As a youth he was regarded as an undisciplined pupil and a rebellious teenager. In time, as an adult he became a black belt in karate, a collector of guns (he loved to shoot) and an expert poker player (he also ran in the New York marathon).

The building where Stern's body was discovered
In 1977, still only 22, he left the Ecole Superieure de Science Economiques et Commerciales in Paris and joined the family bank, then headed by his father Antoine, and in very bad shape financially.

Immediately he demonstrated the qualities and characteristics that gave him his reputation for being an abrasive and uncompromising deal-maker. He quarreled often with his father and soon, with the help of his two uncles, pushed the man out of the family business.

Although the Oedipal act was considered selfish and aggressive, it was also true that the father’s management of the bank had been disastrous. Antoine Stern and his son never spoke again for fifteen years and were only reconciled – although according to some reports, just barely – until the father was on his deathbed.

The son later admitted he was “brutal,” and “regretted it” because it gave him a bad reputation. He got rid of a lot of people, he said “because they were dishonest,” and he also got rid of those who had failed to notice the “dishonesty.” It is safe to say he intimidated people wherever he went in business.

Crafty and ambitious, his goal was to build
the greatness of the family name in the American and British financial markets. And, indeed, he succeeded. Under his new management, he revived the family bank and sold it to Lebanese businessmen for a fortune in the early 1980s, while keeping the family name above the door and continuing to run it. After that he built another bank, also called Stern, which he sold to a Swiss bank in the late 80s at a handsome profit, while still remaining chairman until 1998. One of his British business associates Lindsay Owen-Jones said, “there is no other example in our generation of one who made as much money in so little time.”

In 1983 Stern married Beatrice David-Weill, the eldest daughter of Michel David-Weill, the controlling partner of Lazard Freres, the powerful and influential private investment bank with offices in Paris, London and New York. Lazard is well-known to New Yorkers because of its American partners, past and present, including Felix Rohatyn, Steve Rattner, Vernon Jordan and Bruce Wasserstein, as well as a French partner, Jean-Marie Messier. An earlier partner, who presided in New York, Andre Meyer (1903 – 1979), was known for years as one of the most politically influential financial men in the world. Mr. Meyer was, among other things, credited with having guided the financial fortunes of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis after the death of the president.

Edouard Stern's association with Lazard was considered problematic from the time he joined the firm in 1992. His financial genius was hindered by his personality. Lazard was — and evidently continues to be — the near fiefdom of his father-in-law, one of the richest men in France, and easily autocratic despite his outwardly gentle and charming personality.

Michel David-Weill
David-Weill is a direct descendent of the founders of the one-hundred and fifty-year-old bank which now has annual earnings in the hundreds of millions as well as valuable stakes in such major international companies such as Danone and Pearson. He often refers to his business as “la maison” (The House), and he has pretty much run it since the demise of M. Meyer more than a quarter century ago. M. David-Weill, who has long had a social presence in New York as well as Paris, is an intimate power broker of the corporate high and mighty in both Europe and the United States for decades.

The arrival of the son-in-law on the scene challenged his father-in-law’s authority. Stern also became a significant shareholder in the bank’s holding companies, and a power struggle between the two men ensued.

Stern also did not endear himself to some of his associates. His aggressive manner led to his being ejected from two of the bank’s senior committees.

Others also found Stern impossible to deal with. Furthermore whatever went wrong in the new association between father-in-law and son-in-law, (accounts differ – some said that David-Weill gave his son-in-law too little responsibility and he became bored) the “grooming” as future head of the business did not take. M. David-Weill was later quoted as saying, “I treated him like a son and he tried to treat me as he treated his father.”

In 1997, after bitter feuding, Stern left Lazard with a pay-off acquired after a threat of legal action, and started his own European investment fund (Lazard had a substantial financial stake in it) called Investments Real Returns SA. IRR was half-owned by Eurazeo, an investment firm that has a 16-percent stake in Lazard and is chaired by M. David-Weill.

David-Weill has long had a reputation for, in the words of one former partner, for not having “developed the loyalty of people in the firm." It should also be noted that the firm slipped in ranking of global merger-and-acquisition deals from 6th place in 1997 to 11th place last year.

Stern then moved to Switzerland for tax reasons, according to one Swiss media report – he was considered an expert in off-shore tax avoidance – and was said to have a network of more submerged investments in places such as Luxembourg and the Caymans. He set up shop in Geneva, where he served on several boards and ran investment firm IRR Capital, in part to manage the Stern family fortune, His business interests extended across the Atlantic and to eastern Europe or Russia as well as Israel.

Now separated from his wife, who lives in New York, he would fly here on his private jet to visit his children. His life in Geneva, aside from his business associations, was said to be quiet and somewhat isolated, seeing only three or four friends. There was, however, other private social activity. The press reported that he “assiduously attended ‘certain establishments’” where its nightlife was “very agitated, very discreet downtown,” and most definitely not “gotha finance genevoise.”

It was, another reported, “a very complicated private life” frequenting “adult clubs.” Edouard Stern had what turned into a lifelong reputation for “entering everywhere by effraction,” which is to say, by force, by breaking in. Ironically his life ended violently, by another version of force, by someone else’s “effraction,” and somehow with his acquiescence.

"He was a charming man, very generous towards me and my husband," his housekeeper recalled. "I did his washing and his cleaning. I knew which yogurts he liked best, but of his private life I know nothing. He never spoke to me about that."
A cocktail party for Terry and Dennis Stanfill
At the home of Tom Schumacher and Matthew White. Three at left: Francesca Stanfill, Hutton and Ruth Wilkinson. Three at back: Charlotte Jackson (in black lace), John and Debbie Brincko (in bright blue). Center grouping: Andrea Fiuczynski, William Stafford, Matthew White, Thomas Schumacher, Sassy Johnson, DPC, Amanda Stonnington. Men at back right: Nick Stonnington and Richard Nye. Front: Terry and Dennis Stanfill.
Friday night Save Venice held its annual costume ball at Cipriani 42nd Street with several hundred attending the black tie affair. Before the Ball, Disney’s theatrical producer Tom Schumacher and his partner, interior designer Matthew White had a small cocktail party for the Ball’s honoree, Terry Stanfill who came in from her home in Los Angeles with her husband Dennis Stanfill.

Schumacher and White have a rather grand apartment in one of the fine old Stanford White designed mansions on lower Park Avenue. JH and the Digital was there to record the event.
Matthew White and Thomas Schumacher
Amanda Stonnington and Charlotte Jackson
Dennis and Terry Stanfill
Nick Stonnington and Andrea Fiuczynski
Francesca Stanfill and Richard Nye
Matthew White and pooch
Matthew White, Sassy Johnson, and Terry Stanfill
Hutton Wilkinson and Terry Stanfill
Two views of the living room

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Afterwards we went down to Chanterelle, the beautiful restaurant on the corner of Harrison and Greenwich Streets, for dinner. I’d never been before but have always recalled reading a review of the place in the New York Times several years ago that was so glowing and rapturous I wasn’t sure I had the palette sophisticated enough to appreciate the art of the chef and co-founder David Waltuck.

The restaurant décor, despite its downtown location, is as sublimely chic as anything one might find uptown. The sweeping floral arrangements are created daily by the chef’s wife and co-founder, Karen Waltuck, set against walls that looks to be a pale pale peach, a shade known as “chanterelle” (hence the name, which came after the walls were painted, suggested by a friend). The vestibule when one enters is like a small sitting room in an art collector’s apartment, containing an armoire (for the coats) and desk, two small sofas, chairs and covers of previous menus – all artworks by contemporary American artists.

David Waltuck — a view of the "artist's" hand
Their first menu was done by the great TriBeCa-based sculptor Marisol. Since then they’ve featured works by a wide range of artists, photographers, writers, poets and even musicians including Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, Jennifer Bartlett, Ellsworth Kelly, Donald Evans, John Cage, Virgil Thompson, Ross Bleckner, Donald Baechler, James Brown, Vija Clemins, Bill Cosby and Edward Henderson, Merce Cunningham, Keith Haring, Francesco Clemente, Eric Fischl, John Dugdale, April Gornik, Maurice Grossier, Robert Indiana, Jenny Holzer, Louise Nevelson, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Hull, Michael Hurson, Jasper Johns, Cletus Johnson, Tom Levine, Bill Katz, Glenn Ligon, Robert Luongo, Andrew Lord, Robert Mapplethorpe, Marcel Marceau, Malcolm Morley, Elizabeth Murray, Philippe Petit, Richard Prince, Daniel Oats, Francois Morellete, Susan Rothenberg, David Seidner, Jack Shear, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Kiki Smith, Mike and Doug Sturm, Terry Winters, and our menu Friday night which was created by Robert Rauschenberg. It’s really quite an amazing array (and now a collection), and it somehow sets the tone for the evening: you’re in a very special place where you will have a very special experience. And pleasure.

The atmosphere is neither sedate nor festive, but serene. The clientele, which to these eyes covered the spectrum from the twenties upward, is dressed for the occasion according to their own individual taste – some in suits and dressy dresses, others very relaxed and casual in blazers or even short-sleeved shirts.
David Waltuck in the kitchen
Before we ordered (but not before the chef had sent us a tasting of some baby shrimp), we had the opportunity to visit David Waltuck in his kitchen where he told us a little bit about his background. He’s a New York boy who attended the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park in his early twenties. He never finished but went to work here in Manhattan on the Upper East Side in a popular restaurant of the day called La Petite Ferme. After a brief time, he and his wife decided to open a place of their own – this was twenty-five years ago – in the just then burgeoning TriBeCa.

Younger New Yorkers may not know that up until about that time, there was no such name as TriBeCa, just as up until the late 1960s, there was no such name as SoHo. All of that grew out of the artists' migration in those years to that former industrial metropolitan area with its wonderful spaces (lofts) full of light. So the Waltucks’ choice was ground-breaking – opening what was to be an “upscale” business in a brand-new part of town.

The first Chanterelle had ten tables (or maybe less), and almost from the first, they had an eager and enthusiastic clientele. David Waltuck changes his menu every ten days or so and there are no permanent dishes (except for the Grilled Seafood Sausage, which three of us chose for the appetizer). I had a bite of that and it was fantastic. I had the Terrine of Smoked Salmon and Black Caviar. Also excellent. Then came a Quintette of Blue Island Oyster Preparations. I am not an oyster lover although there were two at the table to pick up any slack so that there were only empty shells left. Our choices for the main courses were Olive Oil Poached White Tuna with Saffron Orzo and Tomato Caper Vinaigrette, Fricasse of Lobster with Lime, Curry and Muscat, Sautéed Tasmanian Sea Trout with Onion Compote, and Fig Balsamic Reduction, and Fig Balsamic Reduction and Brined Niman Ranch Organic Pork wrapped in Prosciutto with White Beans and Tarragon (my choice).
Chanterelle's “assortment of cheese"
This was followed by the “assortment of cheese,” about a dozen and a half of choices, each carefully described by the waiter (we all chose about six to try), followed by a variety of desserts, all too much at this point, and all eaten in entirety. With everything washed down by a “tasting of Old World Wines” and “a tasting of New World Wines.”

It should be said that the company was excellent, four people full of things to say, as well as enthusiastic gourmands for the evening. The service is seamlessly thorough, so much so that one is only conscious of having what one needs at all times without ever having to ask for anything. We arrived a little after eight-thirty, and three hours later, possibly slightly too sated from the grandeur of the menu (and wanting to try everything), we were putting on our coats to go back out into the cold New York night. There is a menu of several choices of appetizers, main courses and desserts for $95, including coffee, tea, etc, plus the assortment of cheeses for $19., and then there is the prix fixe of a choice of two appetizers, two main courses, the cheese, a tasting of chocolate desserts and petits fours for $115. The wine tastings are $85 each, Old World and/or New. Everything as sublime as the chanterelle.

To learn more, you can visit their website: www.chanterellenyc.com.
L. to r.: The Robert Rauschenberg-designed menu cover; The menu items handwritten by Karen Waltuck.
The main dining room
One of 3 flower arrangements in the main dining room
Chanterelle celebrates its 25th Anniversary
The wall of menu covers designed by the likes of Robert Indiana, Eric Fischl, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, Jennifer Bartlett, Keith Harring, Robert Mapplethorpe and many more

March 7, 2005, Volume V, Number 40
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/NYSD.com


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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com