For those of us who enjoy both food and travel, Bravo’s Around the World in 80 Plates has been an adventure in culinary wanderlust. In anticipation of the final episode, we reached out to top four finalist John Vermiglio to learn more about how he got his start in the kitchen and his experience on the show.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking? When did you decide you wanted to be a chef? What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
JV: I began my cooking career at the age of fourteen in a bagel and muffin shop. I started as a dishwasher and worked my bum off to make my way out of the dish pit and into making the bagels (dried up cream cheese containers are a pain to wash, I had to get out). In the following years, I spent my time making pizzas at a local shop and fell in love with the hospitality industry. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school, when I saw a television documentary of students attending culinary school that I realized; this was what I was meant to do. I now hold a Bachelor of Science in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales University Providence, Rhode Island.
While it is difficult to nail down the one thing I enjoy most about being a chef, I would probably have to say, serving others. Nothing is more pleasing and satisfying then feeding people.
FP: Sounds like a meaningful journey. Tell us about some chefs who have inspired you.
JV: Charlie Trotter, for molding me into the chef I am today, the lessons in simplicity, spontaneity and excellence I received while under his tutelage are priceless.
Thomas Keller, what else needs to be said? (Sidenote: he also happens to be the author of the book that sits on my nightstand, and will forever be my culinary bible, The French Laundry Cookbook.)
Art Smith, for opening my eyes to the world through food. Our travels around the world have proved to be some of the most influential opportunities I have ever experienced. Without him, I would not know the beauty that is hospitality and the generosity and love that is possible through food (more specifically fried chicken!)
FP: Tell us about your experience on 80 Plates from casting to filming. What was it like to compete with the other chefs? Which country was your favorite to visit?
JV: I’m not sure I will be able to truly capture the essence of the experience that was ‘80 Plates.’ The entire journey from casting to elimination was unbelievable. Perhaps it’s my Midwestern roots, or my naivety to the reality television industry but I had no idea what I was in for. Looking back, I am still in disbelief of everything I experienced but am truly grateful and humbled by the entire journey.
Competing against my fellow cheftestants was amazing. Anytime you put chefs into a room together, it’s a guarantee there won’t be a dull moment. Add television cameras, foreign kitchens, huge egos and extensive travel with money on the line and you can ensure things are going to get interesting.
My favorite country to visit would have to be Italy. Up until then I had only read and dreamed about the culinary mecca that is Italy. Stepping foot there, the words and stories I have heard did not do enough justice for the beauty and bounty this country possesses.
FP: We definitely enjoyed watching all the adventures you and your fellow cheftestants shared!
We know you enjoy cooking for others, but when you are home, what are some of your favorite meals to cook for yourself? What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
JV: When I am at home my absolute favorite meal to cook is whole roasted chicken with vegetables. I live at my restaurant most of the week and typically eat my meals, as most chefs do, cold and in between preparations for service, so when I do get the chance to cook at home, the menu is already set. Nothing beats a beautifully roasted chicken with crispy skin, cook it on top of your vegetables and you are enjoying a small taste of heaven. As far as my foodie pleasures, I can easily say condiments are my weakness. Put aioli on just about anything and I am going to crush it. In secret at home, its ranch dressing, hot sauce; forget about it, that’s a must.
FP: We’d get along great as ranch and hot sauce are always on our table!
A congrats is in order as we read that you’re now the Executive Chef at G.E.B. in Chicago! Tell us how that’s going so far for you.
JV: G.E.B. is the third installment of the Chef Graham Elliot Empire. It is a quaint bistro located on ‘restaurant row’ in Chicago. The menu and service are unpretentious and focus on the craft of food, in other words, simple and done right. We are into our second month and things are going great. This is the first restaurant I have been a part of the opening so it has been an amazing ride.
FP: Name three individuals you would want to invite over for dinner and what you would prepare for them.
JV: If given the opportunity to invite any three people over for dinner I would have to go with Julia Child, Jim Henson and my late grandfather (whom I was too young to fully enjoy before he passed). Without hesitation, I would serve them breakfast, a meal that is laid back and relaxing. Think about it, biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon, waffles, etc., what else could put you in a state of jubilation like breakfast does. Serve the food, sit back, and enjoy the ensuing conversations.
FP: We understand you’re from Detroit, MI? We’re headed there in a few weeks. Any places you recommend?
JV: Safe travels, you are going to love Detroit. While my list of favorites is long, I will tell you, do not miss out on Scotty Simpsons Fish and Chips. It’s been around since 1950 and serves up the best fish and chips I have ever had. I mean, they fry in beef fat, could it get any better? Additionally be sure to check out the Eastern Market while you are there as you will be blown away by the bounty of farmers and artisans that is, Michigan. Looking for libations, check out The Old Miami, not sure there is any other place like it, just don’t dress up, you won’t fit in. Oh, and while I hate to have to say it, make sure you grab a coney dog while you are there!
FP: Thanks for the tips! Half of Foodie Pleasure is also a Michigan native and is always advertising what a hidden gem the state is. There’s so much more to Detroit and the entire state than what you read about in the news!
If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing? What are some of your non-cooking hobbies?
JV: If I hadn’t become a chef, I would probably be making lots of money and working 40 hours a week; I’m kidding. Before I selected this career path I toyed around with the idea of becoming an architect, I am fascinated by buildings and homes and appreciate the art and detail that goes into it. When I was a youngster, I wanted to be a truck driver and see the country behind the wheel of a big rig.
FP: We imagine you would have been successful in any of those, but we’re glad you went the chef route! Where will we see Chef John Vermiglio in ten years?
JV: Ten years from now I hope you will see me living in Detroit as the proud chef and owner of a restaurant group. I look forward to moving back one day to the city that gave me so much and be able to serve up some of my hospitality to the great people of Metro Detroit.
That’s awesome. One thing we keep hearing from every chef we speak to is a real desire to give back, which is so important and inspiring. Given our soft spot for Michigan, we’ll definitely come check out your restaurant in Detroit! In the meantime, we’ll let you know if we ever make it to Chicago so that we can visit G.E.B.
Thanks so much for your time, John. We look forward to following your career!