This chef, originally from Alsace, in eastern France, today commands a vast restaurant empire that stretches from Paris and London to China, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, Indonesia, the Caribbean and the United States – 39 establishments in all… and counting.
Born in Strasbourg in 1957, Vongerichten grew up around a bustling kitchen, where his mother and grandmother would prepare lunch for the many employees working in the family coal business. “I would wake every morning to the most wonderful smells, and I quickly became known as ‘the palate’, tasting each sauce and dish, recommending salt or some more herbs.”
On his 16th birthday, Vongerichten’s parents treated him to a meal at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant a few miles south of Strasbourg called Auberge de l’Ill, and it was this experience that reinforced his decision to pursue cooking as a career. “I was amazed,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’” His first ever kitchen job was in the very same establishment.
After working at several top restaurants across France – including a stint under the late Paul Bocuse – Vongerichten moved to Thailand in 1980, where he developed his life-long love of the Oriental flavours that still mark his recipes to this day. “I was eating Thai food three meals a day; it was incredible,” he said in an interview in New York magazine. “The dish that changed my life was tom yum soup. You start with a pot of water, add lemongrass, lime leaves, lime juice, coriander, mushrooms and prawns; 10 minutes later, you have the most incredible, intense soup, instead of boiling old bones for 20 hours the way I’d been doing.”
By 1985, Vongerichten had moved to the United States. From then on, he opened restaurant after restaurant, quickly establishing his American – and global – empire.
Nowadays he lives in New York City with his wife Marja and their daughter Chloe. He also has two grown-up children from his first marriage.
His recipe choice of baeckeoffe is a traditional dish from his home region of Alsace. Find the recipe here.