If your daily commute goes anywhere near the intersection of Santa Monica and Wilshire, you’ve likely noticed the 12-story semi-walled off construction site next to the Beverly Hilton. By this time next year—assuming L.A.’s notoriously slow permitting process doesn’t live up to its reputation—that giant tower of rebar will be transformed into the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, the famed luxury hotel’s first foray into L.A. Aside from pools and spas and those fancy mints that they put on your pillow (do hotels still do that?) the 170-room luxury hotel will be bringing in another Los Angeles first: Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
The French-born chef has 30 restaurants from Vegas, to Dubai, to Shanghai, and, even though he’s been approached dozens of times to bring his white tablecloth stylings to L.A., he said the situation was never quite right until he met with the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills team. And the spark was mutual. “It was kind of obvious and almost natural that we both decided together to partnership in this new adventure in Los Angeles,” the hotel’s managing director, Luc Delafosse said. “Waldorf Astoria is dedicated to luxury, and we share exactly the same passion and the same vision for excellence in the culinary arts.”
Vongerichten, whose eponymous New York City restaurant Jean-Georges boasts three Michelin stars, will be operating two separate, still unnamed restaurant concepts inside the hotel. On the bottom floor, there will be a more traditional fine dining joint focusing on the type of fare that the JGV brand is known for, and, at the upstairs pool, you’ll find a more casual setting for drinks, salads, snacks, and anything else that pairs with rooftop views. Vongerichten suggested guacamole. Sounds good to us.
Since the restaurant is still about a year away from opening, the menu is far from being set, but Vongerichten said he is looking forward to finally being closer to the same produce that he already uses at his other restaurants. “I’m excited about everything, from Santa Barbara shrimp and uni, to—you know, we’re buying yellowfin tuna from Hawai’i right now and shipping it to New York,” he said. “In the wintertime we have to use L.A. as our garden as it is, because there’s nothing growing in New York. And it’s great because that means we already know farmers down here.”
On top of running the two restaurants, there’s still the little issue of executing room service orders for hundreds of guests every day. But Vongerichten, who is a veritable hotel veteran at this point, doesn’t see that as a challenge, so much as an opportunity to cook more food for more people. “When I arrived in New York, I was at the Drake hotel for five years; so, yeah, I really miss hotels,” he said. “It’s like having friends stay at your home. Every day you get to treat them, not only to dinner, but for breakfast, and everything throughout the day.” Spoken like a consummate hospitality pro.
There’s still no word on who Vongerichten will be bringing in as chef de cuisine to run the show—you can’t sit around flipping omelets for Beverly Hills-ians while running a 20-plus restaurant empire—but he did suggest that the hiring will come from within. “With all the restaurants, we have a lot of young talent behind us and everyone is saying, ‘I want to go to L.A., I want to go to L.A.!'” he said. “Sous chefs from China to Miami to New York—we have probably 15 requests for the chef position already. L.A. is an attractive market.”
Unless you’ve done a lot of traveling on an expense account, you’re probably not intimately familiar with Vongerichten’s worldwide cadre of chefs. But, if you have a penchant for binge-watching reality TV, you should recognize at least one the names: Jeremy Ford. He’s currently one of the final four contestants left in this season of Top Chef, and he’s also the chef de cuisine at Vongerichten’s Matador Room in Miami. “Jeremy is definitely in the mix; he is in the basket for sure. And he’s terrific. He worked at L’Orangerie here in L.A. so he’s already familiar with the market,” Vongerichten said. “We don’t have anything to reveal now, of course, but we’re definitely considering him.”
Vongerichten specified that with each new restaurant, he tries to make it a unique experience that adapts to the surrounding area. For instance, he opened Jean-Georges Steakhouse in Vegas instead of a farm-to-table restaurant, because, well, there aren’t any farms there. Which led us to say something we never thought we’d say to a three-Michelin-starred chef: “What’s your avocado toast situation gonna be?”
“We will absolutely have avocado toast!” the chef graciously assured us. “Actually, with Jeremy we developed an avocado pizza where we cook the dough and then put raw avocado on top, diced jalapeno, coriander, and olive oil. It’s even better than toast… we might have to do that here.”