Masterchef S01 ep9: Jean-Georges Vogerichten, Vogerichtens Restaurant, [New York]
Interview with Jean-Georges Vogerichten
Working in a 3 star restaurant it is like entering the Mafia. I never had to find another job'. If I wanted to go to the south of France, to Louis Outhier, it was a phone call away and two weeks later I was there.
KM - What is Jean George Vongerichten?
First of all it is my name. I wish that my parents would have given me a shorter
name because my last name is very long so…
KM - So you must be from Alsace?
That is correct.
KM - The food is on German discipline on the French kind of innovation.
Great grandfathers were coal handlers.
KM - Really?
Because you had the canal right behind the house and the coal was coming
from the north by boat, then trailed by horses and then the coal was distributed
to the city. So I was always black when I grew up. I was full of dust
KM - Seriously, you're joking?
No I'm serious.
My grandmother and my mother were cooking every day for about 30 staff. I
grew waking up every morning with all the smells in the kitchen and food was
more my interest. My father wanted me to really pick up his company, but I
turned it down.
Something taillivant for me was really when I was 17 birthday. They took me to
??? le burge lallile in Alsace. I was eating and I was amazed about everything.
That meal when I arrive at dessert I said to myself, I said, this is it, I have got
eight people here, laughing and enjoying and eating, the smell, the restaurant,
the energy and everything. I turned to my father and I told him, you know
what? This is what I want to do!
I started there on the 14th July in 1973, it was a three-year apprenticeship and
I arrived there and the first thing I learnt was about seasons. I actually started
during the summer time so there was all the light eels coming from the river,
the white salmon in the summertime. In winter it was pheasant with a feather.
The hunting guys were coming with the game.
KM - What was Haeberlin like?
He was like working next to God. I mean the guy is like… he has all that
knowledge, he learnt from a chef, who came from the South of Russia, so he
was very like bourgeoisie etc. and mix with that Asian food I think so for me …
but he was the nicest guy in the world.
When you start working in a 3 star restaurant it is like entering the Mafia. I
never really something to find a job. I wanted to go to the south of France, to
Louis Outhier, it was a phone call away and two weeks later I was there.
KM – What was different about him?
He was against having anything on the stove. I come from a cassis, where we
were doing stews and soups, stocks,
KM – More traditional, yes.
..we were cooking for hours and hours. Here I came into a kitchen where I had
to erase everything I had learnt in the previous three years, start from scratch.
He started with nothing.
KM – So he was doing everything a la minute.
A la Minute, I mean…
KM – What an extreme!
Somebody ordered a fillet of sea bass, we take the sea bass from the fridge,
cut it. He was with some champagne sauce, it was cooked a la minute,
reduced a la minuted, the herb was shot a la minute. He wanted at 12.00 the
stove was empty.
After that I said, Ah I see something else again. Phone call again, Monsieur
somebody called Monsieur Bocuse and I was there two weeks later.
KM – What was Paul Bocuse like?
It was the same thing there, I visit Lyon after I was doing two years of olive oil
and basil. Erased everything again. I mean you put it inside your mind and you
have to start from scratch , but I was cooking next to him so it was an
incredible … His character, his charisma, he was the one who really….
KM – He brought the chef out of the kitchen!
KM – Before that the chef was hidden in the kitchen.
So I learnt from him, you know, diversify yourself, from something in Hong
Kong, London who…
KM – Be flexible
Yes, be flexible.
Then I went to see another, I went to Munich to another 3 star restaurant, and
at the time it was Tantris
KM – Yes Tantris
With Witzigmann. He was like Outhier, he hated Maison Plas, he hated
prepping ahead of time so he was putting the menu on the wall at 5 o'clock
when the restaurant opening time was 7 o'clock. That menu was on for the
night and the next lunch. Everyday I had no idea what we were going to cook.
The guy was in Germany, he went to Haeberlin, Bocuse, he went to travel in
Japan so it was a bit like cooking in New York. He had no fears, no tradition,
there were no rules.
And then I get a phone call from Mr. Outhier "How are you, this is Outhier, I
have a consulting job in Bangkok at the Oriental Hotel. I set you up, you cook
my food, you go there"
KM – And rock and roll.
I said, I need to think about it. He said "No, you cannot think about it I need an
I get off the plane and the smell was different. I know right away this is
different, I mean it smells like rice, it like naplar, it smells like you know,
anything but what I am used to. It was a culture shock, a total culture shock.
KM – And how many years did you stay there?
Two years. I was a chef at the Normandy for two years.
KM – And what did you learn?
It changed my life completely.
KM – What was it about that place that changed you?
I mean because, wait a minute I come from Europe every sauce has to be a
part of some bones or some fish shells and you cook it for at least an hour,
two hours ten hours whatever. Something I missed here. Here they are they
put a bowl of water with some lemongrass and ten minutes later you have the
best soup in the world.
All the seasoning is liquid, there is no salt. Most of the food is seared very
quickly you know with a wok or it is quickly cooked so it is always fresh, it is
not … I mean there are some dishes like curries, they simmer but like you said
it is very fragrant, with the spices. Me I cannot go back now, I mean spices are
When you conceive a plate, you think about first in your head first because…
KM – So you have already done it in your head
I mean after 25 years of cooking you know what salmon taste like, so already
you have a start. You know that salmon is fatty and soft so you contrast it with
something crunchy (that comes from my Asian background) and then… but I
still want it to taste like salmon, I don't want to overpower it, I don't want to kill
it. You still cook it very gently, because if you over heat salmon it gets too dry,
cook it very gently and I am going to mix something something it is fatty and it
needs some acidity so we are going to put some citrus there, I need to add
some spice. I need to put some ginger or maybe some galongow?? That is the
way I compose my dish. It is in my mind, I write it down, I compose my dish
and right away I know.
For me food has to be exciting, it has to be clear to the people too. If you put
more than 10 ingredients it is over, people don't want to taste it any mote. For
me with all the seasoning and spice I usually only put three things together and
clear things. Go back to the salmon, truffle, maybe mashed potato - those are
three simple ingredients, but they go so well together.
KM – If you do it well it is incredible.
It is incredible because then you do technique of cooking you slow bake your
salmon, the mash potato with the right amount of butter, the truffle that gives
that earthy aroma, I mean those three elements are perfect for me.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE:Jean_Georges Vongerichten, Vongerichten Restaurant, [New York]