From his very first experience in a kitchen in France to his Michelin-starred restaurant kingdom, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s inspirations have always taken from natural, fresh ingredients combined with simplistic techniques, with the goal of perfecting the ordinary.
In this blog we are taking an in depth look at Jean-Georges life, his renowned culinary techniques, journey to success and career defining moments!
Born in Eastern France in the region of Alsace, Jean Georges’ family was originally in the coal industry. Growing up, he was fascinated by his mother’s dedication to preparing the daily lunch at 12:30 PM and then also the same routine for a grand dinner at 7:30 PM sharp. His vast palate was undeniably influenced from a young age, with touches of his mother’s culinary creativity emerging in his repertoire as he emerged as one of the world’s best.
Almost as if it were a movie, Jean-Georges Vongerichten can identify the career defining moment that shaped his life from then after, as if it were the first domino falling and then setting off the chain reaction. The scene was his 16th birthday in 1973, and his family had taken him to Auberge de l’Ill, a three starred Michelin restaurant in Alsace, where they lived. Serving them was world famous chef Paul Haeberlin, and his father put in an odd request, “My son is no good. Do you need somebody to wash dishes? He will do it.” To his surprise, Chef Haeberlin informed them that the restaurant was in need of an apprentice. On his first day, Jean-Georges’ worked a 14 hour shift, washing dishes with no complaints and then his journey began, moving into the room above the restaurant.
Following his three year apprenticeship came his compulsory military service, for which Vongerichten turned down an offer to cook at the Élysée Palace – a chance to cook for the president of the republic. His reason for turning down this offer? He wanted to see the world, and so he was stationed on a boat to cook for the Captain and his crew. After he returned, he decided he could not stay in his village any longer, and then his culinary career really took sail as he voyaged to the south of France, then to Munich and eventually Bangkok where he was hired as Chef de Cuisine by chef Louis Outhier. Over the next decade, Jean-Georges’ would open restaurants for chef Outhier in Asia and then in the United States! Deciding that New York was the best place for him to bring his dreams to life, he then proceeded to open Marquis de Lafayette in Boston in 1985, and then Lafayette in New York in 1986. From here on, Jean-Georges’ fame and success skyrocketed, becoming a household name in the industry, and opening more restaurants worldwide to build on the birth of his empire.
Throughout Jean-Georges’ career, some iconic recipes stand out amongst the crowd as landmarks of his tenure, including a famous egg caviar that is on his menu to this day, a shrimp satay with a wine-oyster sauce; a pea guacamole that caught ex President of the USA Barack Obama’s eye; and the list goes on! Not to mention his caramelized scallops with a fruity, buttery caper-raisin sauce and thin slices of seared cauliflower on top. Jean Georges’ legacy will go down in culinary hall of fame and his influence will be clear in generations of chefs to come, but don’t forget that he was once also just a rebellious teen trying to find their path!
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