Q&A: Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten dishes on his first L.A. restaurant and his love of In-N-Out

Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at his new restaurant, Jean-Georges Beverly Hills, located inside the new Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. It opens June 1.
(Billy Farrell)

The name Jean-Georges Vongerichten is synonymous with classic fine dining, elaborate hotel restaurants and well-earned Michelin stars. With 35 restaurants around the world (another may open in the time it takes you to read this sentence) and devout fans who include celebrities and world dignitaries, Vongerichten, a native of Alsace, France, may be the best-known chef in the world.

His flagship restaurant Jean-Georges, in New York's Trump Hotel, has three Michelin stars. He has published numerous cookbooks, including "Cooking at Home With a Four-Star Chef," for which he won a best cookbook award from the James Beard Foundation. And he co-hosted a PBS series called “Kimchi Chronicles” — he makes his own kimchi, but we’ll get to that later.

And now he’s getting ready to open his first Los Angeles restaurant, Jean-Georges Beverly Hills, along with the Rooftop by JG and Jean-Georges Beverly Hills Bar, all at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, next to the Beverly Hilton at the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards. The hotel and restaurants are scheduled to open June 1.

I spoke with Vongerichten recently in the unfinished dining room at his new Beverly Hills restaurant. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

With all your restaurants in countries around the world, what does your frequent-flyer mile program look like?

It’s huge. I’ve got 3 million miles. I don’t even know what to do with them. You can’t give it to anybody, so it’s tough. Tomorrow we fly to Tokyo — three days in Tokyo, three days in Shanghai, two days in Hong Kong, then back Monday morning to New York.

Why open your first L.A. restaurant here and now?

I feel like I’m more Californian than New Yorker with the way that I cook. I don’t use as much butter and cream; it’s much lighter. I have always cooked with vegetables and vinaigrettes. It was about finding the right partner and opportunity. It’s Beverly Hills. It’s a great location. It’s not going to be too fine-dining.

Where do you eat when you’re in town?

We landed today, late, so I hadn’t had lunch yet. So where do you stop when you land from New York? In-N-Out Burger. We took an Uber and said, “Do you mind stopping here?” So we had a Double-Double of course and ate in the car on the way here. I never miss a meal. When I want sushi, my new favorite is Sushi Park. I like Cafe Gratitude. I like Gjelina. Last time I came here I wanted to see what the vegan places were doing. For me to come here, it’s a lot of inspiration.

Do you still collect toasters?

I’m a toaster fanatic. For me, as a chef, the best smell when you wake up in the morning is toast.

What’s your go-to to put on toast?

Avocado. Still. I know it’s a trend. We have an avocado pizza on the menu here. We bake a sourdough crust with a little bit of onions and put sea salt and olive oil and just some sliced avocado on top and jalapeño. The bread is very warm. That’s on the menu only for L.A. — we have avocado toast for breakfast in the morning. For room service we are really going to offer the food from the restaurant in the room so it will be an all-day menu. You will be able to order the avocado pizza from your room while you are watching TV.

For me, as a chef, the best smell when you wake up in the morning is toast.

— Jean Georges Vongerichten

Favorite thing to cook for yourself other than toast?

When I cook, it’s usually a one-pot meal. Depends what time as well. A bowl of pasta with pepper and Parmesan. When I forget to eat or am still hungry, I always have kimchi in my fridge. Always. Homemade too.

You make your own kimchi? How long do you let it sit for?

Two weeks. First salted. Leave it outside for 12 hours, then the next day I put my slurry with chile and then keep it in the fridge. Only good up to two weeks, I think. I don’t put fish sauce or dry fish. I like to keep it clean. It’s a little funky. Those are my snacks: yogurt, kimchi, pasta.

What about kitchen tools? One thing you can’t imagine not having or that you use more than everything?

Probably a Microplane. Grating garlic, cheese, nutmeg, spices. I like my Vita‑Prep too, but it’s not too easy to move around the kitchen. I like lemon zest on everything, so that’s my go-to.

You’ve won so many awards, you have Michelin stars, you’ve cooked with so many people. What’s the next goal?

I want to be the first 100% green restaurant, from head to toe — from compost in the kitchen to zero GMO, all organic. I don’t know if there is such a label, but I want to create it. At ABCV [his plant-based New York City restaurant], it’s all recycled; we buy everything on EBay. Even our frying oil in the kitchen is GMO-free. We try to really have everything as organic as we can. Because I just turned 60 and I want to be 90.



In the dirt with Ron Finley, the Gangsta Gardener

Lucques' Caroline Styne talks about the restaurant labor crisis and how it will affect your dinner bill

Chef Jacques Pépin talks about his life in France and opportunities for immigrants in the American kitchen today

Get our weekly Tasting Notes newsletter