JOSÉ de MEIRELLES
Brasserie Les Halles, Le Marais and Le Marais 2, NYC
Ever since he was a small boy, growing up in Porto, Portugal, José de Meirelles has loved to cook. Inspired by his parents - who were great cooks themselves and placed much importance on meals, eating well and family life - young José relished and actually looked forward to his kitchen chores. He grew up to attend business school and start a career as a banker in Portugal, yet food and cooking always remained a dominant theme and passion in his life.
In 1983, José left Portugal for the United States, and began cooking professionally in this country as a way to obtain his green card. After a few years of working his way through New York kitchens, José decided to study at the French Culinary Institute for his culinary arts degree. After graduating in 1987, he worked at La Réserve where he learned the important skills of organization and running a restaurant efficiently. Moving on to Maxim's, José worked with Jean-Michel Diot, whom José credits with teaching him the finer points of seasoning. Next, José took the position of sous chef at the popular Park Bistro, owned by Philippe Lajaunie.
It was during this time working together at Park Bistro, that Philippe and José came up with the idea of creating a classic French brasserie. Many nights after work, they would crave a good classic "steak frites," and the idea for Les Halles was born. Opened in 1990, Brasserie Les Halles was fully embraced by New Yorkers hungry for classic brasserie fare in a classic setting. In his role as Executive Chef of Les Halles, José has amassed an amazing knowledge of how to butcher, season, and cook all variety and cuts of meat.
José describes his cooking style as bold, honest and very much ingredient-driven. He explains, "When making simple classic dishes, you really must have the very best of ingredients - there's nothing to hide behind. I am always on the look out for what's best and in season, and then I need not fuss with it much - nature has done that for me." When appropriate, José likes to use strong seasonings like cumin, and often brings Portuguese accents to his cooking. He doesn't believe in putting too many ingredients in one dish or on one plate, however, choosing to keep flavors true and clean, and not risk overwhelming the palate. And while he reads about food and looking to see what's next, some of his very favorite dishes to prepare are simply roasted game or the classic pot au feu.
In May 1995, José and Philippe Lajaunie opened a second French brasserie in New York City, in the same vein as Les Halles, but with one definitive twist. Located in the Times Square area, Le Marais is the city's only kosher French brasserie. Whether it's cooking a classic steak au poivre or coming up with the numerous specials served daily at Les Halles, Chef José de Meirelles' passion for his craft and attention to quality and technique are the winning combination for everything he creates.