How Jean-Georges Vongerichten Went From ‘No Good’ Kid to 4-Star Chef

The globally prolific chef started out as a small-town truant and troublemaker. Then he got to work.

Comments: 60

  1. Fascinating article!! Looking forward to trying The Fulton in March.

  2. The best meal I ever ate was at Jean George in NYC in 1998. I still remember the frog legs and garlic soup, trio fois gras, sea bass and duck from that tasting menu. Dessert was incredible and decorated for my birthday and Jean George signed my menu. Hands down - best meal ever.

  3. @Deirdre Sounds really memorable - maybe some day for me, too.

  4. Please don’t eat other sentient beings.

  5. Alas, haven’t had a memorable meal in any if his famed restaurants. Congrats to his success and business model though!

  6. Brilliant, driven, energetic, bored easily, willing to take risks, pushes limits...if Jean-Georges were in elementary school today he would have been labeled ADD with hyperactivity and prescribed medication. I admire his parents for not giving up and guiding him into an industry that requires hard work, creativity, and endless energy. Amazing story.

  7. @MOK I taught those very same kids you talk about. And you are right. My heart always went out to them. I often said if I came into a good fortune, I'd open a place for kids just like them, with few walls and far more opportunities.

  8. @MOK. Also because he is french. French people aren’t quick to label kids as you describe like Americans. I know a European guy, married to an aMercian lady who left America and moved his family to his country (because they could ), because they had a very hyperactive child that school tried everything to find the problem and label their child and asked them to move her to a special need school. It’s been 2 years and this child is doing very well in her school in Europe

  9. Only in the United States

  10. Whenever I’m in NYC we always have a lunch or dinner at Jean-Georges. It’s simply the best, always.

  11. Tried the Fulton with my daughter, loved the space but the food left us somewhat dissatisfied and puzzled while leaving a huge dent in my wallet. There comes a time when a chef like JGV is riding on his brand and getting away with it. Obviously he can't be at 38 places at once but he can charge JGV prices everywhere whether he is there or not and get away with it ...for a while.

  12. @Victor Yup

  13. The closing quote, “I always broke the rules,” points to one of the most undervalued traits of highly successful people — they just rewrite the rules, respectful of other people, and with humor. I remember Vong (so unique), and go to Jean-George Steakhouse at The Aria Las Vegas all the time. Never, ever a slip - congrats!

  14. What a great story, presented through quality writing. Some commenters will doubtless focus on side issues, such as "gosh I don't like X ingredient", or "gosh price Y is too much" but they miss the point of the story. A person who others wrote off as a trouble maker found not only his niche, he displayed his passion and expertise...and the world took notice.

  15. Great guy. I see him at least once a month at a small nightclub where I run the door. Parties into the wee hours with all the kids. And his friend Herve is a gent who has been suggesting I come work for JG. Dreamy.

  16. As great as Jean-George and his other restaurants are, his cooking at his first NY restaurant, Lafayette, was easily the most sublime and life altering. I was a spoiled young man who had already eaten at many of the top restaurants in NYC and France. Lafayette was on a level with the greatest of them. When he left, I was devastated and switched my allegiance to Gray Kunz’s Lespinasse, an equally sublime and even more creative experience.

  17. Interesting and wonderful piece about a man who absolutely loves what he is doing. Good for him!

  18. I met JGV and Phil Suarez when I was working on the Trump Hotel at Columbus Circle. It was our goal to recruit them and have JGV open his “signature” restaurant at that site and to provide room service to the hotel. The entire venture was incredibly successful— including the many wonderful meals I enjoyed at the restaurant. Both Suarez and JGV are wonderful people who I continued to know until I left New York. They both fully deserve the success they have achieved. How rare is that to say these days?

  19. With the right cast, a movie about Vongerichten's rise could be very entertaining. Similar to the one about Daniele Mazet-Delpeuch which is one of my favorite films.

  20. I read a fan fiction novel several years ago that is similar to this guys life.

  21. I must say his restaurant in Philadelphia was a great disappointment with unremarkable, expensive food ($26 lunch burger!) and a menu that lacked interesting choices. Perhaps he invests more of an effort in his NYC ventures because the experience here in Philly was nowhere near 4 stars.

  22. @Neil McCauley That's the problem when a chef has 35 restaurants.

  23. @Bob R The Philly restaurant is absolutely gorgeous so clearly a great deal of thought and care was invested at one level. But man, if you can't get a burger right you have a looong way to go.

  24. Alsatian aromas wafting through the house, so evocative of another time and place. Each of his restaurants I have tried are different- I love that it is not the same, and there is always something special in the details. Great article.

  25. last visit to mother ship for family dinner -- our go-to for family celebrations and a place to host corporate titans for lunch for 25 years: inventive, fun and simply the best in NY (altho my wife favors Daniel) -- thanks, mr Richman

  26. Probably more business man than chef these days, I’d love to try his home cooking.

  27. and of course his namesake restauraant is in a Trump building, good enough reason to boycott him and all of his restaurants. there are pleny of great chefs who don't pal around with would-be tryants

  28. There are only 3 Michelin stars!

  29. The NY Times gives 4

  30. @Bridget The 4 stars refernced in the article were from the NY Times, not Michelin.

  31. @ Bridget Maryland, @ Chris Colorado, @ Bob R Portland Is there any other self-appointed authority of restaurant ranking that gives five or more stars?

  32. Applause to Jean-Georges Vongerichten for having seen the light and made the best of it. With all due respect to the innovative chefs, time only will show whether the eulogical or even doxological praises sung to them by the press put them in the eternal category of Taillevent and Escoffier.

  33. A fascinating story. It reminds me a lot of Jacques Pepin's story, as written in The Apprentice. Another chef from France who started at the bottom there and later made it big in America.

  34. Now that’s how you write about a four star talent. Five stars to Alan Richman

  35. Jean-Georges Vongerichten is a salt fiend, even when asked face to face to use a lighter hand with salt he won’t because he can’t help himself.

  36. Very odd piece. A rich brat is hardly a "No Good Kid". "Mr. Vongerichten met his business partner, the entrepreneur Phil Suarez, almost 40 years ago when the chef was cooking at Lafayette, a restaurant of matchless creativity in the Drake Hotel in New York." That was 30 years ago.

  37. Love some of his restaurants! Love this article! My favorite line though is that he's still friends with the woman who helped him finish the marathon. That's cool.

  38. Jean-Georges has spread himself out too thin for all of his restaurants to serve high quality fare. I've been to quite a few and none of them are great and nothing more than decent. Even his signature Jean-Georges is not what it once was. (I've eaten there numerous times) It went from three Michelin stars to two a few years ago. As an aside, I will not eat there anymore not only because the food has declined but because it is at a Trump property. I will not walk into any Trump property.

  39. Too bad you can’t separate your politics from your polenta!!

  40. "Walking with him through the Union Square Greenmarket, where he shops, meets with his chefs and offers advice to anyone who asks, is like stepping into a Las Vegas casino with Frank Sinatra." Thank you, Alan Richman. They don't make writers like you any more.

  41. New Yorkers have been having great meals at J-G restaurants for decades. My current go-to restaurant for great, down-to-earth food and service is ABC Kitchen. And I'll never get over the caviar eggs served at Nougatine. Speaking of Nougatine, our best NYE ever was spent there abut 10 years ago. However, this year we had a reservation for 7 people on Christmas Eve and had the worst restaurant experience we've every had in NYC. After waiting for our table in the lobby of the unfortunate hotel next door for 45 minutes, we got fed up with the wait and the lies from the front desk staff and left to have pizza at an UWS favorite, Numero 28. It was delightful. Jean-George Vongerichten needs to re-think whether he can keep his reputation alive as long as he's running that sloppy operation in the Trump Hotel. I have a feeling that I know why that restaurant has devolved into what it's become today, but I'll hold my tongue.

  42. My husband and I visited in 2008 from small town Washington state. Everything was magical. It was an experience I’ll never forget. Chef Vongerichten actually walked past a table full of “fancy ladies who lunch” to stop and talk to us. Wow.

  43. I hope he is generous with his employees.

  44. A puff piece through and through. No mention of the consistently shoddy, inattentive, haphazard service at The Inn at Pound Ridge? It's what happens when you spread yourself too thin. And the place is basically in his back yard!

  45. He stole a motorbike as a kid and apparently was not thrown in jail but rather, given another chance. Worth noting in the current America where mass incarceration destroys lives every single day. Kids can make mistakes and turn out to be great adults— if we let them.

  46. @Tracy Indeed you are so right. Where young children of color are handcuffed at their elementary schools because of an outburst! I was such a troubled kid and always got in trouble but as a white girl I got SO many chances. I am grateful, of course, but I see how unfair it is.

  47. As long as it is still located in Trump International Tower, the thought of dining at Mr. Vongerichten's flagship restaurant gives me indigestion and recalls exclusive restaurants during the Vichy era in France. I urge Mr. Vongerichten to restore the dignity of his reputation by relocating his restaurant somewhere else.

  48. If you'd eaten at his Paris Cafe at the TWA Hotel at JFK, you would not give him four stars or anywhere close. Despite a stunning space for the dining room, Jean-Georges takes the approach of figuring his customers are trapped and are one-time customers and then slams them with outrageous prices (even by NY and airport standards), especially for the quality. Twenty-six dollars for a (mediocre) cheeseburger and fries? Are you kidding?

  49. @Thomas Chefs deserve to be paid for their work. Clearly you have never worked in a kitchen; I have found it to be both wonderful and a demanding place. When one rises to the top of the profession through hard work and dedication, they deserve some measure of respect. As that appears to be beyond your understanding, there's always a McDonald's in what ever airport you find yourself.

  50. @Palmer The writer stated that he found the cheeseburger and fries "mediocre," but thought the room was stunning. $26 for mediocre is too much, regardless of the chef's pedigree.

  51. @Palmer No, sorry, I live part of the year in Paris where I am now. The prices in NY are generally outrageous for food at restaurants, his are just robbery at this location. The total food cost in "his" burger and fries versus your example of McDonald's is maybe 2x what McD charges. Maybe. The staff are paid nothing in this country because they all work for tips (i.e. me adding another 20% to this tab + 10% in taxes). Add in the usurious alcohol pricing in New York, and this highway robbery. A meal here will, with a glass or two of wine, set you back 100-150 dollars (plus tax and service) and it will be average at best. In Paris, I can eat a better meal prepared by a chef "getting paid for his/her work" for 20-40 euros, with wine and including tax and service. His Paris Cafe is so far from Paris it is laughable. Don't believe me? Visit there yourself and you pay 26 bucks for a mediocre hamburger. Sorry, most of this money is profit to pay financial backers of these large restaurants and conglomerates of restaurants and not "the" chef actually doing the cooking.

  52. I used to love to watch his wife’s show on pbs featuring Korean cuisine. And later in the show jean-georges and marja would cook a dish inspired by Korean spices condiments. Their neighbor Hugh jackman and his wife would sometimes cook with them. So lovely! multicultural multiracial global delicious!

  53. Beyond good and evil : just delicious? :-)

  54. Two or three years ago, I took my sister to Jean-Georges for lunch on weekday for her 21st birthday. We had an extraordinary meal with lovely service - the kitchen brought out five(!) desserts to end the meal, and we ate them all. But the most memorable moment came at the end. We were still seated as service was concluding. A door near our table opened, and Jean-Georges himself - sweaty, in dirty chef's whites - stuck his head in and looked around before returning to the kitchen. The man has restaurants all over the world. How wonderful that he is not above getting his hands dirty at the flagship on an ordinary Wednesday. It certainly made my sister's day.

  55. SUCH a great article. My wife and I took 9 of our clients out to J-G for one of their 30th birthdays years ago. Such a fabulous & memorable meal. My cousin, while alone on a biz trip, sat in a seat in front of a stove there while J-G cooked for him. That was ultimate! Feldman, you have not lost your touch- great job helping us to really picture & understand this amazingly talented man.

  56. I had followed Jean-Georges since Boston. I'd heard about him when my downstairs neighbor got a job in his kitchen. He raved about this young, brilliant chef. Years later, I had the good fortune to be hired as a waiter at Jo-jo and was bowled over by his genius. He thought about flavors and textures like a true artist. He treated his staff like family and took us all out to Vong on several occasions. I'd never tasted such interesting flavor combinations! And I can still salivate over remembered details of the menus. I have endless admiration and respect for Jean-Georges and hope to dine with him again soon.

  57. What a pleasantly refreshing change from the typical front page outrages. I truly enjoyed this thumbnail of a legendary chef whose NYC establishments unfortunately predate my own residency (1962-2006) there. (I was when flush a Chantarelle, Bouley, Robert diner.) As an enthusiastic, if at best competent cook, I could really relate to his experimentation. An apparently truly dedicated Maitre de cuisine who seems to have managed to remain a decent fellow (youthful peccadilloes notwithstanding) for the entirety of his career.

  58. So today the New York Times got to promote not just one friend of Donald Trump - but two. So much for supporting progressive causes. I will not eat at any Jean George restaurant until he cuts his ties to Trump.

  59. I went to Jean George at Trump International for a breakfast meeting in 2016. I was racially profiled and taken to the back of the empty restaurant next to the kitchen to sit. I addressed the situation and insisted that I be moved but after that experience, I will never set foot in any of his restaurants.

  60. Driven..or other words. Focused might be best. Risky not really as it is what he seems to really want to do. Being a good human being or really being a human being is more than just cook or more than food and restaurants I would assume there must be grand humanity of a very particular kind that we are reading about. I would love to sit down with Mr. Jean-Georges, if I may be permitted to say it that way, and really question his philosophy through his actions. I think we might learn a lot if it was done well. I tried to do this some 15 years ago but there were too many distractions (extremely good ones) and far too little time. If I have the chance would try again....I hope readers will be interested if I feel it was done well. In the meantime, I wish him and especially his staff all the best. I hope Trump will not be elected again, even he has done a good job in showing how we cannot be complacent about our freedoms and democracy, just a chefs know they need pay attention. The little I know Jean-Georges he will relocate as soon as he can even knowing perhaps too little politically but knowing the stomachs and tastes of his clients are political as well for politics is not just simply something 'out there". Politics is our everyday lives lived according to our understanding our moral sense of being. Discussions are needed to be human.