His Father Didn't Want Him to Cook
Cedric Vongerichten on mentoring and giving back
As the executive chef/owner of Wayan (20 Spring St.) in New York City, Cedric Vongerichten is a respected restaurateur in his own right.
But the Culinary Institute of America graduate had a demanding mentor before his individual success: his father, Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
“I was born in Thailand and moved to Portugal before my family settled down in New York City. From the age of nine, I would hang out at Lafayette Pastry.” It was there, says Vongerichten, that he found his passion for cooking. “We went to France when I was 14 and that was when I decided to take a professional direction.”
It would seem every father’s dream for their son to walk in their footsteps, but that wasn’t the case for the younger Vongerichten. “At that time my father was not too thrilled for me to go in that direction.”
The chef says his father wanted him to go into a more traditional line of work. “He said that cooking was a difficult job and that I should look into being a doctor or a lawyer. I think he wanted me to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake.”
The tides turned when Cedric proved his muster in the kitchen. “When I was 18, I staged at different restaurants in France. Eventually, my father came around,” says Vongerichten.
From then on, the venerable chef took his young protege under his wing. “I helped to open Dune restaurant in the Bahamas, and he sent me to London for six months,” says Vongerichten, who adds that his training also took him to China and Hong Kong before he landed back in New York City to work at his father’s restaurant, Jean-Georges. “That's where my mentorship really started,” he says. Vongerichten says that his father gave him no preferential treatment during his tenure at the New York restaurant. “I started at the bottom. I had to work hard to make it to sous chef,” he recalls.
After achieving his own success, Cedric Vongerichten says he understands why his father tested his mettle. “I look back and I understand why he was training me that way. It gave me solid roots and a strong base.”
Vongerichten is looking to expand his culinary reach to other cities, with plans to open Wayan in Miami and beyond. “Right before the pandemic, we were about to finalize a deal in Wynwood [in Miami]. We love Wynwood and thought it would be a great spot for Wayan. It’s perfect for the cuisine we do.” Vongerichten explains that during the pandemic, things changed. “The deal kind of dropped,” he says.
Still, Vongerichten is adamant that Miami is a good fit. “We are speaking to other people now. We visited with people at Miami’s Design District. I think Wynwood is also still on our radar,” he says.
For now, Vongerichten and his wife, Ochi, are very much involved with helping feed New Yorkers through City Harvest. “My wife and I are very excited to be a part of that great organization. Food is a necessity. Everyone has to eat.”
Vongerichten says that his family’s foundation, Food Dreams, helps people who love food get an education in the culinary arts. “In the end, it’s all about helping to feed people.”