Chef News

Aaron Chamberlin Dishes on Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges and What He Learned at LGO

This is part two of my interview with Aaron Chamberlin, chef owner of St. Francis. If you missed part one, where Chamberlin dishes about why he's not a celebrity chef and the over-hyped opening of St. Francis, read it here.

See also: - St. Francis: Happy Hour Report Card

Favorite thing to eat growing up: Anything cooked outside over a campfire.

Favorite thing to eat now: Foods that are packed with nutrients for energy.

What's your guilty pleasure?: Chocolate before bed.


Name a culinary mentor and explain what you learned from that person: When I worked for Michel Richard, he told me that it takes 20 years [to be ready] to open your own restaurant. Twenty years after he told me that, I opened St. Francis.

What advice would you give an aspiring chef?: I'd say what Michel Richard said to me: Put your head down for 20 years. Learn the craft!

Weirdest thing you ever ate: Steak with dirt on it. It fell off the grill, and I was hungry.

The media has made stars of chefs and now farmers. Good thing or bad thing?: It's a great thing! These are the people feeding us, our communities, which, to me, is a very serious job.

You have worked for some really big names in the industry, including Daniel Boulud. What was that like?: They ate me for lunch. I worked there 28 days and 28 days I walked home in tears. I was in way over my head.

So what happened?: I called Michel, who called his friends and I worked all over New York -- Park Avenue Café, Aureole, Vong. Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] and his people were really nice. It was a whole different ballgame. He was really savvy.

In what way?: When you work for Jean-Georges, you get a recipe book. Most restaurants are run free-style, but he was very structured, he had systems: "Be a robot and if you're a good robot, one day you'll have your own robots."

You spent six years with LGO Group. What was that like?: I have a lot of emotional attachment to LGO. I still go there and pick up trash while I'm waiting for my coffee. It was a special place to be part of, and I got a lot out of that experience. That was my finishing school. It got me out of the fine dining mentality and made me a business chef.

That's an interesting way to put it. So Bob Lynn [founder of LGO Group] was another important mentor, right?: Yeah, he can smell talent. He can smell people who will work like a dog. He's a team-builder. People who worked there have gone on to do massive things -- Doug Robson, Craig DeMarco, Jay Bogsinske and Jared Porter. I mean here was this lineup of chefs making granola, fruit and yogurt.

All that being said, you still wanted to break away and do your own thing:Yeah, the day I decided to open my own restaurant, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, "From here on out, I don't work for anybody but myself." Although sometimes I miss the mentorship. Now I have to find mentors in different ways. I pay attention to CEOs, learning how to delegate and budget my time in blocks.

So, are you looking to build an empire?: Well, I don't expect to get rich. I live in a simple house. I don't drive a fancy car. The days of "who has the most toys wins" are gone. To me, who has the least is the winner.

Last meal on earth: Roasted squab, two ladles of red wine sauce and country bread.

What should be written on your head stone?: Instant gratification is not fast enough!

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles

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Nikki Buchanan