Cooking wasn’t Jonathan Cichon’s first choice as a profession, but the prospects of finishing business school and sitting behind desk forced him to abruptly, decisively abandon numbers for a life behind the line. He worked every station at his first job at Freight House in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and inspired by his newfound skills, Cichon enrolled in the Restaurant School of Philadelphia.
Cichon worked through school as an intern at Lacroix at the Rittenhouse Hotel, the city’s landmark fine-dining restaurant led by Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix. After graduating in 2006, he accepted a sous chef position at Supper, but he wouldn’t stay away from Lacroix for long. Within a year, Cichon returned to Lacroix as sous chef, and he’s since stayed, working his way up to chef de cuisine and executive chef in 2010.
Responsible for the restaurant, banquets, private parties, and 24/7 room service, Cichon is one of the most driven, hard-working chefs in Philadelphia—and one of the most talented. He’s both the product and future of the Lacroix kitchen, teaching the newest generation of Philadelphia cooks what it takes to maintain and elevate a progressive dining institution.
Interview with 2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Hotel Chef Jonathan Cichon
Caroline Hatchett: What’s your philosophy on food and dining?
Jonathan Cichon: Everything should taste good and make sense. Our menu is ingredient-driven. It’s based upon what's good when its good. If tomatoes aren’t good, we don’t use them. We don’t eat peas in January. That dictates to us when the menu changes. When black trumpet mushrooms are done, they’re done. We find the best product and work around it to highlight it.
CH: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
JC: It was not my first choice. I got started when I was probably 23. I had gone to college for business and didn’t want to do that anymore. I needed money, went to a restaurant, and applied to be a server. I didn't have any experience, so I started working in the kitchen. I had always been into food, but never considered it professionally. I took the long way to do it. After I worked there for a year, I went to culinary school. I was working at a country club at the time. Someone at the country club said, “I have a friend who I want you to meet.” He introduced me to Chef Lacroix. I started as an intern, a little over five years ago. I was there for a little over two years. I left to open a restaurant with a friend who worked here previously. After a year, I came back to take a sous chef job at Lacroix. It's a good company to work for and good kitchen to work in—the best kitchen in the city.
CH: What’s your domain here at the Rittenhouse Hotel?
JC: I do everything—room service, banquets—too much! I run room service 24/7, 365 days a year. I have just under 30 cooks for breakfast, lunch, dinner and banquets.
CH: Who are your mentors and what have you learned from them?
JC: [Jean-Marie] Lacroix. I started here when I didn’t know anything. For the first two years, he taught me everything. He's old school—you have to know the old way before you can do the new way.
CH: What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started?
JC: Show up. Be on time. I make it a point that if a stagiaire is more than five or six minutes late, I dismiss them. Be here early, don't be here on time. Even if you screw up everything all day, just be on time. I see people leave all the time for money. If you stick with it, it will come.
CH: Where do you see yourself in five years?
JC: I've been in executive chef position for two years. Five years from now, there are so many ways it could it go. Will I be here in five years? Probably not. I see myself staying in the city. I'd like to do something a little bit smaller.
CH: What’s your definition of success?
Here, every guest leaves happier than when they came in. They walk out the door talking about how good everything was. Success in your personal life is finding a balance between working and not working.