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Charles in Charge

It's been a busy sabbatical," says Charles Masson with a laugh. He's not kidding. Since he stopped devoting his full-time attention to La Grenouille, just over a year ago, Masson has been painting, running a catering business, and working with Robert...

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It's been a busy sabbatical," says Charles Masson with a laugh. He's not kidding. Since he stopped devoting his full-time attention to La Grenouille, just over a year ago, Masson has been painting, running a catering business, and working with Robert Isabell and designing dishes for Swid Powell. Now, he's also penned a rumination on his famed talent with flowers, "The Flowers of La Grenouille" (Clarkson Potter, $22.50).

Watching him decorate the seventh floor of Bergdorf Goodman for tonight's gala launch of his book -- he went to Morocco with a Bergdorf vice president to shop for some of the decor (which the store will sell) -- it doesn't seem likely that Masson will be slowing down soon.

Momentum is his strong suit, and it was his desire "to create something beautiful every day" that's transformed the ambience of La Grenouille into a perfect match for its legendary culinary stature. His father, Charles, was and still is his inspiration. "When my father opened La Grenouille in 1962, it was vinyl banquettes and painted sheetrock -- the luxury was the flowers. The velvet settees, the silk walls -- I've added that over the years, but slowly. It's been an evolution -- or a depreciation if you don't like it."

Masson left La Grenouille to Charles and his brother Philippe. While there were problems with the two of them running the restaurant, he says there is no further strife. "It's hard to tell," he says when asked if he sees returning to La Grenouille. "It was difficult for me and my brother to work together -- we have two very different personalities. I've already been there for 18 years, and it was important for me to take a step back. My father died when I was 19 and he [Philippe] was 13 -- it's only fair that he should be running it now. When you're artistic, you think only of constantly creating. I think I drove some people crazy at the restaurant -- it wasn't just me that needed a sabbatical -- it was everyone!"

Still, he allows that he misses the familial faces he worked with, and he doesn't deny that his mother, Giselle, would be happier if he were back at the restaurant.
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