Chef Jonathan Waxman

Chef Jonathan Waxman helms the pizza oven. (Photo: Marriott International)

Chefs You Should Know

Chef Jonathan Waxman on His First Memory of Venice and Recharging His Culinary Batteries

For chef and restaurateur Jonathan Waxman, pushing the boundaries of his daily routine is critical to staying inspired in the kitchen. The James Beard Award–winning chef’s pervasive creativity has made him one of the most revered names in the culinary world.

“I think what happens is that you get stale in a culinary sense,” says Waxman. “You do the same kind of routines day to day, and you come to a place like Venice and you go to the market, like Rialto Market, and you see just the plenitude of vegetables and fish and just the happy folks eating stuff. It really recharges your culinary batteries.”

Waxman began his foray into cuisine at Paris’ La Varenne School, later returning to the U.S., where he slid into the Napa Valley restaurant world, eventually working with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. The chef is credited as one of the pioneers of California Cuisine and ultimately brought his fusion of French techniques and fresh ingredients to New York City, where he opened Jams and, later, Barbuto.

The freshest ingredients. (Photo: Marriott International)

In the fall, Waxman will be a featured chef at Gather, A JW Epicurean & Mindful Experience, which will be held September 26 through 29, 2019, at the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa.

“You know, I’ve been coming to Venice since 1979, and I think it’s, first, the most magical place on the planet,” says Waxman. “Second, for a chef who’s looking for inspiration, the restaurants are amazing, but the [Rialto] Market is the most pleasurable and most stimulating part of the whole thing.”

Marriott Bonvoy Traveler sat down with Waxman to discuss what sparks his inspiration, his first trip to Venice and the mysteries of langostino.

You’ve said that you are inspired by the fresh ingredients available to you in Venice; can you tell us why?

My whole M.O. is not to try to complicate life. I think I only really cook for myself. I’m very selfish in that respect … Now, pizza as a subject is something true to everybody’s culinary heart.

Chef Jonathan Waxman
Making pizzas. (Photo: Marriott International)

Everybody loves pizza, but what’s nice about making it in Venice is utilizing all the things that are in season. Shaved asparagus on the pizza; we have morel mushrooms on the pizza; we have these beautiful shrimp from the lagoon on the pizza.

We’ve got beautiful basil puree; we have shaved, raw artichokes … You know, a simple pizza by itself is amazing, but you start adding all these seasonal ingredients to it, it just blossoms into something that’s really special.

The JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa has a vast garden; have you had a chance to explore its produce?

The garden here is pretty magical. In fact, it’s filled with purple artichokes. Now, we don’t really get purple artichokes in America. We have this simple, green globe artichoke — which is a great product, don’t get me wrong — but when you see purple artichokes out in the raw, out in the garden, it just makes my heart glow.

Chef Jonathan Waxman
Seafood and more fill the chef’s menus. (Photo: Marriott International)

How do you make your food relatable to diners?

I love teaching, regardless of anything else. I think that as I get older as a chef, what I realize is that not just my customers and my young chefs, but everybody, benefits from more knowledge. [For example] there’s a whole misnomer about scampi and langostinos … And I think people are a little intimidated by the creatures.

You know, they look kind of hard to eat, but they’re actually very easy to eat. They’re extremely easy to cook, but they’re incredibly versatile, so they actually make the best sauce, they make the best raw crudo dishes.

Cooking them with pasta is a no-brainer, with risotto’s a no-brainer, but also when you just sear them and you serve them with a raw vegetable salad, magic happens.

Chef Jonathan Waxman
Slicing truffles for pizza. (Photo: Marriott International)

You said you’ve been coming to Venice since 1979. What is your first memory of the city?

Well, my first memory of Venice is pretty funny. I came here with my girlfriend at the time, who was a pretty well-known chef in London, and we had a long journey. We were actually very tired and depressed because we lost all our luggage. So we arrived with no luggage at all.

All we had was a plastic bag and our clothes that we had on our backs, and we went to dinner at Harry’s Bar, and [someone] reached out to us and connected with us, and he befriended us, and that night we stayed at the Loconda Cipriani out on the island of Torcello.

I remember waking up in the morning, and supposedly we were staying in Hemingway’s suite, but who knows. Anyway, so I wake up in the morning and hear the splashing of the water. I said to Sally, “What is that?” So we look out the window, and there was a guy fishing fish for our breakfast.

Torcello is this magical island just off the northeastern part of Venice. There’s a 12th-century basilica there, but the Loconda, which is the original Cipriani hotel, is like being in heaven.

You mentioned being in Venice to get re-energized in the kitchen. Has anything sparked for you?

I think the best takeaway to recharge my battery is when I walk in the market and things are just better here because they’ve been growing them so much longer. They’ve been growing it for a thousand years.

In America, we’re catching up. We’re learning how to do things better, but the purple asparagus here are just phenomenal. The strawberries here have a strength to them, a texture, a sweetness that is deep and rich and beautiful. And we’re getting there. We’re getting there all over America, but we need to work harder, I think.

I think everybody would benefit from coming over to Italy, going to Rialto Market, and walking around. And especially [visit the] fish mongers because the variety of fish that you find is just phenomenal. You can get [anything] from little roe and cuttlefish to the scampi I talked about to spider crabs. You have whole swordfish. You’ve got whole tuna.

And that’s inspiring because in America, we see things in plastic. We see things all cut up. It’s great to see things in the flesh.

The annual Gather, A JW Epicurean & Mindful Experience will be held September 26 – 29, 2019, at the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa, and Chef Jonathan Waxman will be a featured chef. The festival will include a range of events and exclusive Gather Experiences catering to food, wine and mindfulness aficionados. And it will also feature the world’s leading culinary and wellness experts.