You may not be able to mathematically quantify what makes a great cook, but you can tell what caliber chef Justin Bogle is by taking a look at a few key numbers. In 2009, the chef was 28 when he earned two Michelin stars, just one of six Manhattan chefs to do so. Add it all up and you’ve got a young, highly promising chef on the rise.
Philly-trained, Bogle didn’t necessarily set out to conquer the New York dining scene, but it turns out that’s what he’s doing. A graduate of The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Bogle made his start at the highly regarded Alma de Cuba as sous chef under Executive Chef Douglas Rodriguez. From there he moved to Striped Bass, where he worked side by side with 2007 New York Rising Star Chef Christopher Lee developing one of the most successful restaurants in the city.
Bogle came to New York in 2006, finally making a move from the City of Brotherly Love to a city that’s known less for its fraternity and more for its competitive acerbity. But the young chef was up to the competition. He teamed up again with Christopher Lee at Gilt, were he was executive sous chef for two years before taking the helm as executive chef in 2008. With less than a year in that position, Bogle was able to maintain the restaurant’s incredible two Michelin-star rating—while still under 30 years old. But accolades aren’t Bogle’s focus—the food is. And over the course of his career, the chef has evolved a palate that seamlessly incorporates the season’s best products into sophisticated, creative dishes that continue to raise the bar for modern American cuisine.
Interview with Justin Bogle of Gilt Restaurant & Bar – New York, NY
Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Justin Bogle: I started working for Jose Garces and Douglas Rodriguez. I was young at that point, 19 or 20, and didn't really know what fine dining was. Ferran Adrià, in 2000, 2001, I really had no idea who that was. When I started working for Chris [Lee], he brought that New York edge to Philadelphia that I missed. I started off on the bottom rung as sous chef so I had to work my way up there, but I stuck it out and Chris helped me get my footing as far as being a sous chef, managing cooks, developing the palate. He gave me the right to come up with a dish and put it on the menu. I worked at Striped Bass for two and a half years and the first review from The Philadelphia Inquirer was three stars.
AB: When did you make the move to New York?
JB: I was hesitant to leave Philadelphia. I said “I'm not leaving here before we get our four-star review.” That came out in January and that August was when we got the nod to come up here. I literally moved up here to New York on a week's notice. I came up and lived out of the other sous chef's mom's house on Long Island. I was driving an hour in. So I said “Sure I've never lived up here!” We got the one Michelin and two Michelin stars last year, so there was a lot of pressure. [Chris Lee] got the two stars, and they were his. I was his right hand man, but they were his stars. The crew said they'd stick around, so the majority of the team stayed when Chris left and we pushed hard.
AB: Did you go to culinary school? Do you hire based on culinary school background?
JB: Yes I did go to Culinary School. I would have to say that I would base a hire on experience over diploma.
AB: How do you feel about creativity in cooking? Do chefs practice an art or a craft?
JB: If it wasn't for the word creativity I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now. But I fell in love with the rush and adrenaline of cooking before I fell in love with the creativity and the food. I was never really that creative in other aspects of life. I was never an artist, or a musician, and never found my niche until I started cooking. I'm an artist, we all are, but craft is something that's a cookie cutter version of what you should be making, while art is open-ended.
AB: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
JB: Finding my own, finding out where I really want to be with the food and the restaurant itself and what direction to take it in. You get pulled so many ways. It’s just being conscious of what chefs are doing in the industry what they're doing in Spain and in Denmark, and find my footing in New York. I'm from Philadelphia, so not working under a lot of the big New York chefs, it’s kind of hard to make a name for yourself. Getting that recognition, having some big time chef come in for dinner is kind of hard because I feel like a lot of chefs came up under the bigger name chefs in the city . It's been hard working my way through that.
Also firing people—firing people is the pits. I would take any horrible job over firing someone.
AB: What is your proudest accomplishment?
JB: Hopefully more things are on the horizon, but thus far the two Michelin stars.
AB: If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?
JB: I would have spent more time staging around in the beginning of my career.
AB: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
JB: I think that I would own a clothing/sneaker boutique.
AB: What does success mean for you?
JB: Success for me means being able to make a living from doing something that I love. If you are not happy at the end of the day then what is the point?
AB: What’s next? Where will we find you in five years?
JB: In five years I hope to own something of my own preferably a little further downtown closer to the greenmarket. It would be nice to watch something be built from scratch. I can’t wait to design a kitchen and get involved in all the aspects of a project like that.
AB: Will you stay in New York?
JB: I’m hoping and praying I will be in New York. But if I left, a place like Chicago has a small town vibe like Philly, but still has that grandiose New York vibe. I’d love my own place, doing the things we're doing, a chef hangout or more casual, small intimate place like this.