Chef Shuffle

What Does It Take to Cook for Jean-Georges Vongerichten?

Matthew Barros, calm and relaxed.
Matthew Barros, calm and relaxed. Photo: Market

As we mentioned yesterday, Myers + Chang ex-pat Matthew Barros landed a plum chef de cuisine post at Market after being hand-picked by Vongerichten’s stealthy scouts. This meant, of course, that he had to cook for the master himself. And, no, it wasn’t any ordinary night behind the stove. We talked to Barros for the lowdown.

It all began with a “random” phone call: “I got a random phone call saying, ‘We’re going to fly you to New York City and have you cook for Jean-Georges!’ It was a completely random phone call; I had no idea. They gave me a few days to prepare.” As it turned out, JGV’s minions had been scouting him out at his M+C post well in advance.

But then … everything changed
: “Initially, I was going to cook my own dishes and a few of his. I was planning what I wanted to do, so I could have a shopper’s list. But then they said, ‘By the way, it’s going to be a mystery basket.’”

Behold, the Mystery Basket: Barros flew to New York and was whisked to Spice Market’s kitchen, where he arrived bright and early. There, he was greeted with: “spring garlic, artichoke, avocado, veal, and button mushrooms.”

Time to improvise: “I was kind of like, ‘What am I going to do here?’ I reminded myself to keep it straight-forward. The biggest thing was not to overthink things, just do what I love to do and keep cool and calm, with clean, bold flavors. I wasn’t going to push any boundaries.”

That pesky metric system: “He had me cook one of his dishes, slow-cooked salmon with bok choy, to see if I could follow directions and replicate it to his liking. Everything was broken down into grams, and well, we use ounces. That was a curve ball that caught me off guard, in the heat of the moment. I had to put everything on a scale. I couldn’t do it by hand and feel.”

Stranger in a strange land:
All the while, Barros was cooking among Spice Market chefs, who had absolutely no clue why he was there, during a Friday night rush. “I kept my head down,” he confesses.

The grand presentation: “I made a spicy tuna tartare with citrus avocado; the salmon dish; veal Milanese; beef broth and grilled spring garlic and button mushrooms; and a nice, simple grilled artichoke.”

Vongerichten and his comrades dined, leaving Barros to retreat to the kitchen and hope for the best. “I felt confident and very much like, ‘Oh my god, I’m cooking for Jean-Georges Vongerichten!’ I looked at it as a win-win situation, even if I didn’t get the job.”

The verdict: He was then summoned tableside, where they chatted about the meal. “He was really genuine. We sat down, we talked about each dish, the good and the things that needed to get worked on. They were satisfied and impressed.”

Barros returned to his hotel (no late-night partying, as he was due back at M+C early the next morning); the following week, he was offered the gig.

You’ll now find him ensconced on Stuart Street, where he hopes to take the “baby restaurant” to the next level with his own brand of “Miami fusion.” Be on the lookout for his favorite signature dish, which we’re guessing is prepared under, ahem, less stressful circumstances: sautéed Maine lobster and butter cabbage, green chili, scallion and ginger.

Earlier: Myers + Chang Chef Goes to Market

What Does It Take to Cook for Jean-Georges Vongerichten?