Q&A with Top Chef Alum Marcel Vigneron

Wolf Restaurant in Melrose

Ever heard of Marcel Vigneron? His name may sound familiar but not because he is a an actor or entertainer on film or television. Marcel is an executive chef/entrepreneur and has appeared on several hit cooking shows such a Bravo’s “Top Chef”, where he made it to the finals. He also has his own show “Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen” on SyFy, and he appears on The Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef”. In addition, “Food Fighters”, Chopped “Celebrity Chef Charity Version” and “Top Chef Duels” are just a few of the more recent shows Marcel has appeared in.

Marcel received his Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) as well as his Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management. The Top Chef alum also took some classes in Barcelona, Spain at El Taller with famed Chef Ferran Adrià of El Bulli restaurant. El Bulli was named the top restaurant in the world in 2007 by Restaurant magazine.

Marcel’s restaurant “Wolf” on Melrose in Los Angeles has been receiving top notch reviews including one from Los Angeles magazine where they named his restaurant one of the Top 10 Best New Restaurants of 2016. Thrillist named Wolf as “Best New Burger” in LA and Marcel was also recently featured in Forbes magazine where he stresses the importance of mentors in finding fame.

I recently dropped by “Wolf“. As I arrived inside, I noticed giant iron-hoop chandeliers hanging from the wood ceiling. The theme is rustic and contemporary and the vibes is hip but relaxing. I was fortunate to interview Marcel in spite of his grueling schedule. In this interview Marcel discusses molecular gastronomy, how he developed his love for cooking, the accomplishment he is most proud of and his words of advice for budding chefs. Read on!

Marcel Vigneron's Wolf Restaurant in Melrose Ave. Los Angeles

Marcel Vigneron’s Wolf Restaurant in Melrose Ave. Los Angeles

Popbuff: Why did you choose to become a chef?
MV: Inherently I think it’s just my nature. Dish washing was the first job that I ever took. It was my natural progression . I didn’t really like dish washing, so I was kinda scraping place and cleaning the restaurant.  I looked over saw these kids working with knives, fire and food. I thought it was much more interesting. So I cooked all through out high school. But the thing that  really made me wanna become a chef was my first trip to Europe . After graduating  high school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I went to Europe and I traveled thru Italy, Spain, Greece and France, just backpacking as a teenager, soul-searching figuring out what I wanna do. I realized that food was such a huge part of culture over there so drastically different in all those places but yet such huge part of people’s lives. It brought me all together. My first trip to Europe was what gave me progressive realization that I wanna be a chef.

Popbuff: Why did you pick Los Angeles for your first restaurant?
MV: I grew up here. For me it was like a repatriation of like coming back home and I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. LA is home for me. But I think most importantly it’s just a great place to be a chef for several reasons. I think we have some of the best produce in the world, and some the best farms. Here in California we are blessed to have long growing seasons. We have great clientele, people like to eat really good food here. And I think it’s kinda different from a of lot other areas. The people are conscious about what they put in their bodies. And also my farmers are here, my fishermen, my ranchers and so it’s a natural place to be.

Executive Chef Marcel Vigneron

Executive Chef Marcel Vigneron

Popbuff: What convince you to have your own business?
MV: Ambition. Always wanting to do more. I work really hard and I have a lot of ambition. And so it’s like a natural progression to do your own  restaurant. Kinda something what I’ve been dreaming about ever since I started cooking. The natural progression was to become a  chef of my own restaurant.

Popbuff: You are also known for molecular gastronomy. Can you explain the term further?
MV: Molecular gastronomy can be the collaboration of chef and scientist. Just basically understanding the phenomenon that is cooking. Not just when you’re making a mayonnaise but what’s happening when you make a mayonnaise. And then understanding that and being able to control and monitor it which will allow you to make new types of mayonnaise, so to speak. I would say it’s collaboration between chefs and science and science and food.

Popbuff: You had your own TV show, and comfortable with the camera. Is this something you’d like to pursue in the future?
MV: I always did TV as a way of getting my own restaurant and putting my brand out there. It’s something I enjoy doing and have been pursued right now by some different opportunities to do more television. However my primary focus is the restaurant and the business. All the guest are coming to the restaurants and my cooks. I’m already here day in and day out so there’s not enough time for now to do both. Once I stabilize work force, maybe in a year or so when the restaurants are fully operational without requiring so much of my time. When the babies are a little bit more grown up then I can start pursuing some other opportunities. I really enjoy doing it . I think it’s great. One of the cool things I like about doing TV is being able to affect a larger audience. When I was on Top Chef, it was very interesting and very gratifying to know that there’s always people out there that were looking at food differently or trying new things just because of the way I affected them and it was something that I never thought it could happened. Something I never foresaw happening. But then I was always getting messages from fans and saying how they were never into food before, they really got into it as a result of watching me cook and I had no idea that I could have that much influence on people. To get people to try new things and to be more interested in food and even just trying to cook in general it’s like doing good deed for society. Cooking is amazing. It’s fun. I really enjoy that aspect of TV and became very fulfilling for me. So I’d like to be able to do it and be an influencer.

Owner Marcel Vigneron in front of his restaurant

Owner Marcel Vigneron in front of his restaurant

Popbuff: How do you test the quality of your ingredients?
MV: First and foremost I judge them by appearance. Even before appearance often times is the aroma. I smell the strawberries. I smell the peaches. I’m really blessed to have a heightened sense of smell. I think it’s one of the things help me excel as a chef. How do I judge ingredients? I use all my senses. I smell them, I look at them, I touch them, I feel them, I taste them. Usually when I’m picking ingredients, I use every single sense. I also deal with a lot of my farmers and ask them “What’s really good?” “What’s amazing right now?” “What’s coming this season?” “What’s going out this season?” “When is this coming back?”.

Wolf Dining

Popbuff: Tell me of an accomplishment that you are most proud of in your career?
MV: One of the first ones, when I was in culinary school. I was asked to compete in a cooking competition by one of my instructors. He asked me “Hey I think you’ll be really good for this. I’d like for you to enter it” And I said, “Oh I don’t know I’ve never done it before. I’m not very competitive.” And he said, “No, I think it’ll be good. C’mon try it.” And so I tried it out. It was the best up and coming cook on all northeastern America. I competed and I won. And then I remember they flew me to Las Vegas to compete for the national title. Just experiencing for the first time, the sense of achievement of being flown to Las Vegas, Escalade picking you up from the airport to the hotel. Getting taken out to dinner and competing against the top chefs, I was jumping out of my bed. I was like this is so cool. Wow, this is amazing. I remember the feeling of huge sense of achievement for accomplishing that and that was the first time.

Popbuff: What word of advice you can give to budding chefs/entrepreneurs?
MV: Stay humble. I peeled potatoes, scrubbed floors for years before I went to culinary school. I’ve been cooking for 21 years and I see these kids nowadays coming from culinary school and they’re like ‘I’m a chef.’ They peeled potatoes once and they are ready to move on to the next thing. Right now I have one 16 and one 17 year old cooks in my kitchen who will basically do anything whatever they need to do. I asked them to peel 6 cases of potatoes and they’ll do without a question as fast as possible. I see that and I recognize that. So then, I embrace them and I teach them everything whereas somebody who’s gonna come in and they’re like “Do I have to?” or “When am I gonna be able to do this?” Actually they are not ready to work here. Honestly, staying humble, learning as much as you can and work for a mentor who will teach you and will also recognize you.

Wolf Dining Restaurant

Chef Marcel Vigneron and Popbuff blogger Ruchel Freibrun

Chef Marcel Vigneron and Popbuff blogger Ruchel Freibrun

 

 

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