For Mr. Chow, Everything’s on the Menu
For restaurateur, painter, actor, and designer Michael Chow, the world is in a state of Technicolor. Hitchcock and Lean are the masters; Ruscha, Newton, and Hockney are his friends. His precision is exacting, his jabs are hysterical, his energy is relentless, and his joy is contagious. Chow’s world is a place where “motherfucker” is a term of endearment, and Hermès suits, Charvet socks, and George Cleverley shoes are the only things in this life one absolutely must own.
He sees life’s moments as scenes he’s prewritten in his head, his friends and loved ones serving as willing actors. Evidently, the philosophy has served him well: Chow has built a restaurant empire that merges East and West and turns his eponymous hotspots into dazzling theaters of cultural energy.
Two weeks before the premiere of AKA Mr. Chow, the forthcoming HBO documentary from Nick Hooker, Chow invited me to lunch at his Beverly Hills restaurant. Seated in a corner booth below the portrait Warhol painted of him in 1981, Chow dishes on control, his childhood, and the restaurant’s future, offering Vanity Fair the exclusive on his planned foray into fast food. Below is our conversation, where I was lucky to get a word in edgewise—even at the very beginning.
Michael Chow: How tall are you? This is a reverse interview.
Vanity Fair: I’m five foot 11 and three quarters. I would like to grow one quarter inch.
You’re lucky too.
No, I’m something else. I’m a dinosaur.
But you have so much energy! At the young age of 84, I was impressed by all the things you seem to accomplish in a day. What does a typical day look like for you?
First of all, I’m extremely… not a little bit lucky, but—[He looks around his restaurant.] This is impossible. This is impossible. Look, I have my little baby who is two years and three months old [a daughter, Skye, whom he welcomed with wife Vanessa Rano in 2021] and she can swim already. She’s a different kind of human. So at this very moment, anybody older than you, I’m finding a little bit difficult to talk to. I’m so quick now that at your age, your energy, right now I’m in power with you.
Who wakes you up? Your alarm, your wife, your daughter?
Unfortunately, all of the above. But I’m very good in the morning. I’m educated by movies so as far as waking up is concerned, immediately an image comes to me: Laurence Olivier. The latest thing I’m really into is name-dropping. Sir Laurence, Lord Laurence, late Laurence Olivier, in a very important movie for me, Richard III.