With dozens of restaurants in cities from New York to São Paulo to Tokyo, Jean-Georges Vongerichten knows his way around the globe. About two years ago, he opened his first restaurant in California—Jean-Georges at Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. The French-born chef reflects on his favorite things about Los Angeles and the one place he goes wherever he travels.
What attracted you to LA to start Jean-Georges Beverly Hills?
Los Angeles is a dream place when it comes to the weather and the Pacific. The people are more relaxed. Coming from New York, it’s always a breath of fresh air to come to LA. There are amazing ingredients at places like the Santa Monica Farmers Markets. We actually have a truck coming to the hotel with a lot of beautiful, fresh vegetables every day.
How has dining in LA changed in the past few years?
It was already very diversified, with people from all over. Chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Nobu Matsuhisa made it famous, and now people are coming from New York and from Asia to open restaurants.
What are some of your favorite local restaurants?
I love to go to Venice—Gjelina is similar to one of our concepts. I always try to find places that are open late; that’s when chefs go out to eat. I enjoy going downtown to Bestia. Bavel is the latest place I’m enjoying with great Mediterranean flavors. Of course, French people like Ludo Lefebvre’s restaurants like Trois Mec and Petit Trois.
What are some of LA’s signature dishes?
Wolfgang Puck made pizza famous with lots of different kinds of toppings. Los Angeles has the best Korean food, the best tacos and the best sushi.
What are your must-see places in California?
I love the Getty museum; I’m a great fan of the space and the greenery. Also, I love driving to Big Sur. That road is spectacular—the Pacific, the rocks. For me, that’s relaxing, too.
Where else do you like to travel, and what’s your favorite thing to do when you get there?
In Italy, I really enjoy the Amalfi coast, Sardinia and Sicily. I also love Spain, North Africa, Bali, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.
I was in Marrakech a month ago. Travel is such a source of inspiration—trying all the spices and visiting the souk (marketplace) in Morocco was incredible. For me, that’s a vacation, but I’m learning as well.
Since you travel so much, do you work or read on the plane?
It’s the best time for me to catch up on one or two movies. It’s my way of relaxing.
Do you have any must-pack items?
Just the usual, but I try to buy something local when I get there. I try to blend in wherever I go.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you travel?
The first thing I do when I arrive is I drop my luggage, take a shower and go to the market. That’s where you see what people eat and how they live. If there’s no good food, it’s not a good vacation.
Sample Chef Jean-Georges’ California cuisine at Jean-Georges Beverly Hills.