Antoinette F. Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Greg Engelhardt: I made a carrot cake from scratch when I was 5 years old. My dad was a police officer with a recipe book from different police stations, and I made that cake. My family wasn't big into cooking, so I'll never forget it.
AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
GE: This is my 27th kitchen. Some highlights: I've worked for Alain Ducasse at MIX, then to work at Michael Mina's SeaBlue (MGM) then to Fiamma. I worked as line cook at all 3 of Andre Rochat's restaurants and as sous chef at all 3 of his restaurants, before returning as his chef years later.
For me, Crystal Cruise line was a career highlight. I was the first American in their 6-star kitchens. Andre landed me the sponsorship, and there I traveled the world cooking under the most strict of Austrian chefs and the most rigorous sanitation requirements in the world. I will never work harder or put in more hours month after month than [I did] on the cruise line.
AB: Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
GE: I do. But [these days] kids get out of school and they can't make hollandaise. They make it once and think they know it! Everyone from my kitchen is from school, but it still took them 6 months to learn to make hollandaise, to make proper stock—all the basics of classic French cuisine. But that's what I do. I'm here to help them. They come out of school thinking they know how to do it all!
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
GE: Andre Rochat, Trygve Jensen (Norwegian Master Mason), Carlos Guia, Patrick Glennon.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
GE: Do you know who Andre Rochat is? Also, I have all potential kitchen candidates cook dinner for my staff as their evaluation. They don’t know that most of the evaluation is based on the enthusiasm, resourcefulness, cost effectiveness, and coordination of the meal. I base most of my decision on this test. Anyone who wants to cook for guests at a Michelin-starred restaurant should want to cook for the staff of that restaurant too. It’s very important.
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
GE: It takes a long time. I went to the Culinary Institute of America, but I'm getting my degree with Andre, right now. I think it takes 10 years.
AB: What ingredient do you feel is underappreciated or underutilized?
GE: I love potatoes. They’re one of my favorite ingredients.
AB: What’s your most indispensible kitchen tool? Why?
GE: Pasta machine—I use it every day! And the Cryovac® vacuum-packing machine is the most important thing in the kitchen.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
GE: Larousse Gastronamique. Le Repertoire de La Cuisine: A Guide to Fine Foods, by Lewis Saulnier, for my time here with Andre. That's my Cliff’s Notes for classic cuisine.
AB: Where would you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
GE: I would go to Scotland. And I'm going to Alsace with Andre this summer.
AB: Which person in history would you most like to cook for? What would you serve? Who would you most like to cook for you?
GE: I love to cook for Andre. He's my favorite living chef. I've cooked for Jean-Louis Palladin. To cook for me—Escoffier. That would be a big meal, huh?!?
AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
GE: I would probably be a gypsy. I would be in a Volkswagen out on the road. This profession is the only thing that's held me down.
AB: What’s next for you?
GE: The second [Michelin] star. I told Andre I'll go down fighting, to the death. I want the third star here. It's a huge, monumental task. Everyday I talk to Andre and ask, ‘how can I make the restaurant better?’ Every time [the inspectors] come back, it has to get better. I have to keep the positivity going.