Jean-Georges Vongerichten Stands Up for Absentee Chefs

Jean-Georges: Look for him in his eponymous
Jean-Georges: Look for him in his eponymous Photo: Getty Images

Earlier this week, Steve Cuozzo of the Post called out chefs for not being in their restaurants. How good is a kitchen when the chef is never in it? Guest blogging for T Magazine’s “The Moment,” the travel guru to the fabulous Laurent Vernhes asked the biggest absentee chef of them all, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, to defend the practice. Vongerichten, who plans to open 50 restaurants worldwide in the next few years, explained himself:

“Many years ago, Paul Bocuse was asked the following question: ‘Who is cooking when you’re not in the kitchen?’ And his response was, ‘The same people as when I am in the kitchen!’
It’s all about the people around you, whom I treat like family. At Jean-Georges, people have been with us for many, many years. My chef at Vong has been with me for twenty-five years. People do not expect me to be behind the stove at Mercer Kitchen or Spice Market.

Chef and restaurateur are two different jobs. I love to pick my vegetables — cooking is my love, my therapy — but I am also an entrepreneur. I have dreams as well; I want to do things. It is a spread that is controlled. I never travel more than one week per month, and there are always things to adjust when I come back. The rest of the month in New York, I am at Jean-Georges every day, cooking for six hours per day.

Every afternoon between three and six we do testing. I am involved at every level of the process. No dish makes it to the menu without me eating that dish. By eating that dish, I know exactly what the first bite has to be like, and the last one must be as outstanding as the first one.

It is so intense and it takes so much staff to maintain a three-star restaurant. At Jean-Georges we have sixty people — twenty in the front and forty in the back, with two different teams — taking care of only sixty seats. You cannot make money on only one restaurant if you operate at that level. Which is why you see many top restaurants in hotels. Nobody gave me the keys to a family restaurant like Troisgros or my mentor Paul Haeberlin’s at Auberge de l’Ill. These days, to be a successful chef/entrepreneur, you need to open restaurants in more than one category.”

So take that! Vongerichten is just a guy doing his job. What he says about being at Jean Georges every day, three weeks out of the month, seems true anecdotally; we’ve never been at the restaurant when he wasn’t there. And given how good his chef de cuisine, Mark Lapico, is, there’s really no reason for him to be there that much. But there’s no question that if you eat there on only one night — anniversary, proposal, last meal — you want Jean-Georges Vongerichten there.

For the Moment | Chef, Inc. [T Magazine]

Related: Cuozzo Hammers the New Wave of Absentee Chefs

Jean-Georges Vongerichten Stands Up for Absentee Chefs