Growing up one of nine children of an entrepreneur father and an education professor mother in Storrs, Conn., Bouley was weaned on fine cuisine by his French-born grandparents. He later earned his stars at restaurants in France. Now, he explains in a sotto voce purr, "I want to supply my customers with nurturing love."
That devotion keeps regulars such as Woody Allen and model Paulina Porizkova coming back; Warren Beatty once felt expansive enough to hug Bouley after a memorable 12-course meal. And, allows the chef, "a lot of women will come into the kitchen and ask if I want to get married." No one has gotten lucky yet, though après soufflé, Bouley usually has a date on his arm (Bernadette Peters is an old flame). When not riding his Harley for relaxation, he sweats out stress in his Manhattan apartment with a personal trainer. But physical perfection isn't the point. "Beauty is like food," he says. "Any beautiful dish that doesn't taste good gets boring very quickly."