While women have traditionally been expected to toil in kitchens at home, in the professional culinary world, the tendency is for men to dominate in higher positions and receive the accolades. This is perhaps why the appointment of the very talented Chef Rachel Wiener as Executive Sous and Chef de Cuisine at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s J&G Grill at the AAA Five Diamond rated St. Regis Deer Valley is all the more special.
Growing up in a Hungarian and Indian household, Rachel was exposed to a variety of flavors that inspired her culinary career. After studying nutrition at Michigan State University, she moved to Florida to take her cooking skills to a new level at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. She honed her skills in fine dining establishments in Georgia, Michigan, and Florida before her most recent job as the Sous Chef at the J&G Grill. There she made enough of an impression to receive her recent promotion.
Atop the mountain where the J&G Grill commands spectacular views, we met up with Chef Rachel to find out more about her passion for cooking and what she's planning for the upcoming winter and holiday season.
Park City Magazine: You're in charge of creating the menu for the restaurant for the upcoming season, how do you go about the process?
Rachel Wiener: I always start by thinking about what I want to eat and what types of food inspire nostalgia for that particular time of year for me. Choosing the proteins is relatively simple, but figuring out what vegetables to use requires contacting local ranches to find out what produce will be in season and the availability. From there I can figure out what foods I want to highlight in particular dishes. Altogether, planning the winter menu will take roughly one month plus a week for each of the holiday menus.
PCM: Was there a specific moment you realized you wanted to pursue the culinary arts as a career?
RW: I always loved eating the food my grandmothers made. My mom's mom is Indian so rice and lentils are my comfort food and go to meal. On the other side, my dad's mom is Hungarian so there it was more cabbage rolls and stuffed peppers. Cooking food on my own wasn't something I enjoyed until I was in college. And it was actually my professors at culinary school who got me my first professional cooking jobs.
PCM: What do you think is special about working at the St. Regis Deer Valley in particular?
RW: First off, you can't beat the setting. We're ski-in/ski-out, with these amazing views around us every day and the show-kitchen is just phenomenal to work in. I think what really makes this place special to me though is the team of extraordinarily talented and passionate people I get to work with.
PCM: Do you have a favorite ingredient to work with while cooking?
RW: That's such a difficult question. I would say my favorite thing to eat is the beef and pork chops we get from Snake River Farms. All the flavor just melts in your mouth. And it might seem strange, but I really enjoy butchering fish. During the really busy season when it's kind of an organized chaos in here, fish butchering feels very soothing and I use it as my zen zone.
PCM: Do you feel like there are any particular obstacles you've had to overcome to get where you are?
RW: I've been lucky and things have gone pretty smoothly for me for the most part, although the logistics of working here with a staff that shifts quite frequently because of the seasonal nature can be tricky. We're always having to train new people. Sometimes there's also things that have been done one way for a long time that need to be changed so you can leave your own mark.
PCM: After a long day out on the slopes, what do you recommend visitors do?
RW: If I personally had the time to wind down after skiing, I know I would be at our ski beach for the après-ski. We have homemade hot chocolate and cider, both adult and kid versions, and fondu for two--there's not very many people who don't love melted cheese.
PCM: Can you give us any sneak peaks for what you're planning on putting on the menu this season?
RW: The menu is actually top-secret for now. That being said, I will say I've very excited about being able to come up with these menus. I'm trying to do more with specials this year and explore some new territory for J&G Grill.
Looks like we'll all have to wait till winter to see what pops up on the menu, but considering the restaurant's reputation for using the best ingredients and Chef Rachel's enthusiasm for the task at hand, we're sure we won't be disappointed by the J&G Grill's menu items.