In the second installment of At the Chef's Table with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, The Daily Meal's video producer, Ali Rosen, talks with the chef about his pivotal 16th birthday and how he began cooking.
As the oldest of four children, the chef was expected to take over his family's business. His parents sent him to school to become an engineer, but he got thrown out after six months. But when he turned 16, Vongerichten's parents took him to dinner at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Auberge de l'ill and the experience was life-changing. "For me food was at home, so this opened my eyes — seeing the ballet of the waiters, I didn't know you could make a living out of food. I remember every bite," he says. Vongerichten recalls that the meal included foie gras with truffles, salmon soufflé with riesling sauce, and veal medallions with blueberries.
During the meal, the chef [Paul Haeberlin] came over to Vongerichten's table and asked how his family was enjoying everything. Vongerichten's father joked and told him that "my son is good for nothing, if you need somebody to peel a potato..." The chef took his father's words to heart and offered Vongerichten a job as an apprentice in his restaurant. He saw this as a way to gain independence and experience a completely new environment.
"I was very lucky because the chef took me under his wing, I really developed a passion for seasons," he says. There, Vongerichten learned how to work with whole animals and the fundamentals of working in a professional kitchen. "Entering a three-starred Michelin restaurant was like entering the Mafia, I never had to write a letter for a job after that." When Vongerichten was ready to move on from Auberge he told the chef that he wanted to work in the south of France, so he made a call and got him a job working with Paul Bocuse.
Stay tuned for more from Jean-Georges Vongerichten in the upcoming installments of At the Chef's Table.