Michelin Star Chef Jean-Georges On Orange Limes And Creating A Menu For L.A.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the internationally-acclaimed three-star Michelin-rated chef, will be making his West Coast debut in Beverly Hills on June 1. Three restaurants—Jean-Georges Beverly Hills, The Rooftop by JG, and Jean-Georges Beverly Hills Bar—will premiere at the newly completed Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills (also making its West Coast debut) at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. In addition, the Jean-Georges team will be overseeing the hotel's banquet hall and room service menus.

Does Jean-Georges' arrival signal a shift in perception of Los Angeles' culinary scene? It certainly seems that way. Enrique Olvera, of Cosme and Pujol fame, is planning a move to L.A. by the end of next year. As is April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig, and Christina Tosi of Milk Bar. But for Jean-Georges himself, the move to Southern California (he currently operates restaurants across the globe, including outposts in Miami, Hong Kong, and Las Vegas) is an opportunity to establish a base in the nation's second largest city.

LAist reached out to Jean-George earlier in May to speak with him about his new projects in Beverly Hills.

So, why L.A.? Why now?

Jean-George Vongerichten: Because, Beny [Alagam, chairman of Alagam Capital Group], the owner of the project, approached me about 3 years ago and said to me "we're moving the iconic Waldorf Astoria to Beverly Hills, to L.A., and we'd love you to be part of the project." So, I looked at the plans, I came over a couple of times, and I loved the idea. I feel like it was the right time, the right project, and a good location too. And the right partner as well, which is the most important, you know, to have someone believe in what you do, and carry the project all the way through. We're five-and-a-half hours away [in New York City], so for me to run a restaurant on my own here would be a little difficult. My focus is on the design of the place, what's on the plate, the food, the service, and then they take care of the daily operation, which is—sometimes when you own a restaurant, when you're far away, it's a burden. So, here it's a pleasure. So, that's the reason. The project, the look of the hotel, the whole [thing] was exactly what I was looking for in a partner here, instead of a freestanding restaurant. It's pretty nice. Actually, it came out better than the plan.

So, you've already been on the roof? You've seen the whole thing?

Oh, yeah yeah yeah. Did you see it?

I've seen it driving by, but I'm excited to finally check out the completed project.

It's nice. It's very elegant, but it's not stuffy. There's a terrazzo floor. The furniture is comfortable, elegant. I think it fits the area.

Sounds very L.A.

Very L.A. And my food is very L.A., too, you know.

I wanted to ask you about that. I know you're bringing most of the menu out from Jean-Georges in Manhattan, and ABC Kitchen, but you're also tweaking it a little for L.A.

Yeah. I mean, the idea is to do the "best of". So, we'll have about 25-30 dishes from different restaurants. You'll have the caviar from Jean-Georges. And I'll say a whole 30% of the menu will be vegetarian or vegan. I just opened ABCV a couple months ago [his vegetarian restaurant in Manhattan's East Village—just don't call it vegetarian], it's been great. Actually, when we opened [ABCV] a couple months ago, we had no vegetables in New York. We still don't have much going on at the market. So, everything came from L.A. You guys are my garden. Our garden in New York is L.A. So, it's going to be something for everyone on the menu, I believe.

Will you have any dish made specifically for L.A.?

Of course we have to use Santa Barbara sea urchin, some of the shrimp, the abalones. We're going to use some of those ingredients specifically for L.A. And then some dishes we're going to tweak to fit the market here. We're going to recreate the Waldorf salad. [Laughs] We made it vegan. So, it's a [play on that] era. I feel like the room feels very glamorous. 50, 60 years-old L.A.

That's the downstairs or the rooftop?

The downstairs. The rooftop, the decor is really the view. Upstairs, it's L.A. that makes the outside.

What else can you tell us about the menus?

We have a pizza oven, and a grill. We have a section [on the menu] that's going to be "simply grilled". Sometimes people don't want to eat (especially in a hotel) a composed dish, so we have a simply-grilled fish, or meat, or vegetables. We'll also have an avocado pizza instead of a toast. The food's going to be our style, our signatures, but really embracing L.A.'s best of.

I was reading that you're looking to do the Chef de Cuisine as someone from inside the organization? I heard you were looking at Jeremy Ford?

No, he's going to open his restaurant in Florida. We hired an executive chef, Steve Benjamin, he was working at Atelier Robuchon in Las Vegas. Our Chef de Cuisine, Richard Archuleta, was at one of our steak houses in Vegas. Steve is going to be the executive chef for the entire hotel. Richard is going to supervise. It's going to be nice. Our farmers just dropped us off a whole bunch of stuff. For example—it looks like a tangerine, but he told us it's a lime. It's orange like a tangerine. So much produce here that we don't have.

A lime that's orange like a tangerine?

Yeah, not a pluot. It's beautiful, though. They dropped off some red walnuts, too. I've never seen a red walnut. So, I think California has a lot of things that they don't send to the East Coast.

Well, then maybe you have to come out here.

[Laughs] Yeah, I'm excited to work with all these things.

So, to clarify. There's two separate space—the downstairs and the rooftop. Are they two different kitchens? The same kitchen?

We actually have four kitchens.

Four kitchens?

A kitchen for the restaurant/bar, which also has an outside patio. If you saw the patio, it has some beams and some growing passionfruit vines on top. So, it's really beautiful. So, a kitchen for that—fully equipped. Then, a smaller kitchen upstairs for the roof. The food is going to be a little more ethnic, you know. We have mushroom tacos, we have some grilled Korean chicken. We tried to use the [diversity] of L.A. And then we have a kitchen for banquets and room service. So, four kitchens all together.

Nice.

So, one executive chef taking care of mostly weddings and banquet, as well as room service, and making sure everything's running smoothly. And then we have a chef [de cuisine] upstairs, and a chef de cuisine downstairs. A good team, and all people we've worked with before. It's a lot of pressure...but it's the same thing in New York. The pressure's on, and now we have to deliver the best we can.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills is located at 9850 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
(310) 860-6666