In 2010, Justin Bogle, executive chef of the Palace Hotel’s opulent showpiece, Gilt, received two Michelin stars for his cutting edge new American cuisine, making him the youngest New York chef ever to do so. His days working at diners and cheesesteak joints weren’t that far behind, and some of his staff had better résumés than he did. Naturally, he wondered if the reviewers mistook his cooking for that of his predecessor, the lauded Christopher Lee. It was only after he pulled down two stars again in 2011 that he allowed himself to think, “Okay, it’s legit.”
Raised in Philadelphia in a family that liked good home cooking but stuck to basic pantry ingredients, Bogle rocketed up the ladder from busboy to cook at various casual restaurants, but vowed not to become a professional burger flipper. After an aimless year at West Chester University, though, he landed at the local Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College. For the first time, he recalls, “I really enjoyed learning.”
After graduating in 2002, Bogle worked for chefs Douglas Rodriguez and Jose Garces at Stephen Starr’s Alma de Cuba, where his palate was jolted out of its mid-Atlantic slumber. “Just learning the flavor combinations those guys put together and the depth of flavor their cuisine had was something special for me,” Bogle says.
In 2004, Bogle took a break to backpack through Spain with a friend. The adventure ended when his money ran out and Bogle begged his mother for a plane ticket home. Back home in Philly, he landed at The Striped Bass working for ex-Oceana chef Lee and consultant Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill. They brought “that bad-ass mentality, the whole New York fine dining thing, to Philly,” says Bogle.
Lee and Bogle took over the kitchen at Gilt in 2006, and when Lee decamped to Aureole in late 2009, the pressure on then-unknown executive chef Bogle to maintain Gilt’s reputation was intense. “The week before the [2010 Michelin] guide came out I was up all night, thinking, ‘I can’t be the guy that loses the two stars,’” he recalls. Although the 2010 and 2011 guides upheld Gilt’s ratings, Bogle says, “You just have to keep pushing yourself.”
The chef shares his mentor Lee’s penchant for composing beautiful plates that look like abstract paintings, but his less classically trained palate opens him up to more unorthodox taste combinations. One of his recent favorites is his sashimi-style scallops with rhubarb, horseradish snow, buckwheat, salted cucumber and lavender. Though there’s still a part of Bogle that’s a hoagie-loving dude from Philadelphia, he says that the refined, ethereally beautiful food he delivers to Gilt patrons “is food that I love to cook, it’s my food, whole-heartedly.”
Nancy Matsumoto | August 12, 2011