Jean-Georges Vongerichten is one of the undisputed kings of the culinary world — so what was it like growing up a veritable princess? “It was very interesting and rewarding,” remarks daughter Louise Vongerichten, who also just happens to be the Brand and Business Development Director for Food & Wine’s Chefs Club, in both Aspen and New York. “We would have a lot of conversations about the restaurant business, which allowed me to understand it all from a very young age. And of course, there was always a lot of good food at home!”
We also spoke to the accomplished 28-year old about her time working as the General Manager at Mercer Kitchen, how she sources talent for the ever-changing roster at Chef’s Club, and where she likes to go in the city for a lavish, blow-out meal (surprise; it’s not Jean-Georges!).
Were you always into cooking yourself, growing up?
I didn’t cook at all growing up actually! But I was interested in the restaurant industry, and definitely liked discovering different cuisines when I was traveling.
I would imagine you generally ate really well, but did you ever rebel, as a child, and beg for any particular junky, preservative-laden foods instead?
Yes, especially when it comes to candies. I was always obsessed with candies and all kind of sweets.
What do you think your career path might have been, had you chosen not to go into the hospitality industry?
I definitely would have become a ballet dancer.
You were the GM at Mercer Kitchen for a while. What were the best (and most difficult!) aspects of working for your father?
The best aspect was that we got to spend some extra time together as he visits all his restaurants many times a week. I always appreciated the time he took to discuss the business with me, and his advice on how to be a better manager. There wasn’t really anything that was the “most difficult,” but he might have been a little bit harder on me!
How did the concept of Chefs Club come about?
Founder and President Stephane De Baets collaborated with Food & Wine magazine and developed the concept. Stephane is also a business mentor for me, and I immediately felt in love with this concept when Stephane presented it to me about two years ago. The idea was for us to become a platform of expression for chefs, which I loved and found fascinating.
You’re responsible for curating the list of visiting chefs. What excited you especially about the chefs you’ve had on board thus far, and what do you generally look for, when it comes to selecting the perfect participants for Chefs Club?
In tandem with Dana Cowin, Editor-in-Chief of Food & Wine magazine, and Didier Elena, Culinary Director, we select very different chefs, with different styles of cooking. Even if they are coming from the same countries, we try to choose chefs who offer something eclectic and delicious. Having chefs from different countries flying over to express their talent and culinary expertise is a fascinating experience. We try to recreate, as much as possible, the chefs’ ambiance from back home, from the music in the background to the flower arrangement and table settings. The opportunity to meets chefs from Italy, Japan, France and on is unlike any other. This past week we had two amazing dinners with celebrity chef Helene Darroze from France, and it was amazing to see New Yorkers discover her talent and style of cuisine.
What are some of your either primary responsibilities as Brand and Business Development Director for Chefs Club?
I oversee openings and new projects, operations in Aspen and NYC, control brand identity for Chefs Club by Food & Wine, develop partnerships that match with our brand, head up marketing initiatives at Chefs Club, and make decisions about the rotating restaurant menu with Stephane and Didier.
Where are some of your favorite places to go in NYC for a lavish, blowout meal, and what are some of your favorite down-and-dirty, super casual spots?
I love La Esquina and Pearl Oyster Bar (the lobster roll is my favorite) for casual spots. For fine dining, I like Masa.
You also grew up in Paris; can you share a quick dining guide for don’t-miss restaurants?
Cafe Stern offers good Italian food, Le Coq Rico in Montmartre has amazing roasted chicken, and Hotel Amour is a go-to if I’m craving a juicy, tasty burger.
What chefs and new developments can we look forward to when it comes to Chefs Club?
We’d like to get at least four chefs every month in the Chefs Club Studio, cooking 2-3 nights a week.
And do you, personally, have any exciting new projects on the burner, besides Chefs Club?
Right now, I’m focusing on Chefs Club NYC and Aspen; other openings on the West Coast and other projects around Chefs Club are keeping me busy and challenged every day!