15:06 Four chefs met in New York in the '80s and bonded over their French roots. Now they run the culinary scene in the city and beyond. During one unique family meal, Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Eric Ripert, and Jacques Torres go back to the beginning of their 30-year friendship.
Daniel 2 Michelin Stars
To the world, Daniel Boulud is a renowned culinary master with 14 restaurants worldwide, six James Beard Awards and the author of 9 books. But to his “French Connection” colleagues Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Eric Ripert and Jacques Torres, he is simply “papa.” Growing up on a farm outside of Lyon, France, Boulud began honing his culinary chops at just 14 years old under the tutelage of world class French chefs. A prodigy in his own right, he was only 17 when he became a finalist for Best Culinary Apprentice in France.
Coming from two- and three-starred Michelin restaurants of France, Boulud felt a sense of responsibility to become an ambassador of French nouvelle cuisine. The first of his counterparts to arrive to the U.S. in the early ‘80s, he became the Executive Chef at Le Cirque and earned his first James Beard Award in 1992. One year later, he cemented his career by opening, Daniel, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant that would become the flagship of his culinary empire.
Jean-Georges 2 Michelin Stars
When Jean-Georges Vongerichten landed in NYC in 1986, he knew he had found his home after a visit to Chinatown. It was at the markets and street vendors where he fell in love with the ingredients reminiscent of his time spent in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong that would become the hallmark of his signature exotic style fused with his native French roots.
A country boy born and raised in Alsace, France, Vongerichten eschewed plans of taking over his family's multi-generational business after a life-changing meal when a teen at a three-starred Michelin restaurant as a teenager that would lure him into the world of fine dining. His first restaurant, JoJo, opened in 1991 to instant acclaim in tandem with his “French Connection” counterparts, Daniel Boulud and Jacques Torres, who refer to him as "The Magician." It's that magic that helped him launch an empire under his flagship Jean-Georges, which now includes over 30 restaurants globally and three restaurants with Michelin stars.
Jacques Torres Chocolates Founder
With nicknames like "Willy Wonka," "Sweet Man," "Mr. Chocolate," and "wizard," Jacques Torres has rightfully earned his place as a legendary pastry chef and chocolatier. At the age of 15 in his hometown of Bandol, France, Torres spent one year loyally going into a local pastry shop every weekend until the owner would take him on as an apprentice. It was there that he found his calling, and after dedicating himself to his craft, went on to become the youngest pastry chef in history to receive the prestigious M.O.F. "Meilleur Ouvrier de France" or "Best Craftsman of France" at the age of 26.
In 1988, Torres came to the US to take on the role of Corporate Pastry Chef for The Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta—only to get poached a year later by his "French Connection" pal, Daniel Boulud, in New York City at Le Cirque. Over a decade later, after earning accolades and recognition as a top pastry chef, he took a gamble and invested his retirement money into opening Jacques Torres Chocolate in 2000. Along with his eight NYC locations, Torres recently opened the first museum dedicated to chocolate called Choco-Story.
Le Bernardin 3 Michelin Stars
Three-course meals and fine china were a daily ritual for the family of Eric Ripert, a native of Antibes, France and raised in Andorra. So it was hardly a shocker when he left home for culinary school at the age of 15. Roughly a decade later, he landed in NYC in 1991 taking a position at Le Bernardin and quickly becoming a rising star on the heels of his "French Connection" friends Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Jacques Torres.
After the passing of his Le Bernardin mentor, Chef Owner Gilbert Le Coze, Ripert took over the kitchen, where he had to learn to run the show—a huge undertaking in a massive, top-rated restaurant. It was at that moment he experienced a radical personal transformation and later embraced Buddhism, which not only allowed him to control his temper but incorporate a more minimalistic cooking style. It's hardly any wonder, then, why he's known as "Mr. Zen" to his friends. Keeping it cool earned him a four-star rating from the New York Times in 1995, followed by a whopping 7 James Beard Awards and solid three Michelin stars in 2005, a title they've held ever since.