Shaun Hergatt, executive chef, Juni, New York

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th February 2015
Australian chef Shaun Hergatt is a Manhattan-based classically trained, creative modernist. Renowned for his technically precise cooking, Shaun is inspired by his childhood in rural Queensland, the natural world, art and his daily life in New York. Arriving in the US in 2000 he joined Atelier at The Ritz-Carlton in Central Park, New York. JUNI - Organic chicken oyster -Yarrow- Sedum - Ash Goats Cheese Espuma- Amethyst berries © Shaun HergattFive years later he was appointed executive chef at The Setai in Miami. In 2009, Shaun returned to New York as executive chef and proprietor of his first solo project, SHO. His impact transformed the Financial District’s culinary landscape bringing fine dining to Wall Street and receiving two Michelin stars along the way. Now he is the executive chef and partner of Juni, a Michelin starred boutique restaurant that opened in 2013. Juni, which was awarded its first Michelin star in October 2014 sits discretely in the shadows of the Empire State Building and skyscrapers of midtown. Juni, loosely translates to “the heart of the season,” so it is no surprise that Shaun champions only the ripest of produce - ingredients may only feature on the menu for a few weeks and then are retired for the year. JUNI - Table with Vases © JUNI NYCThe Staff Canteen spoke to Shaun about being introduced to foie gras, his childhood influences and being a part of Northcote’s Obsession 15. You were influenced by you grandmother and father, which dishes/ingredients really stuck with you through your career to date? Childhood memories are central to my cooking. Not only because my childhood taught me about instinct and how food should taste but because most of my early memories revolve around nature. Taking watermelons from the garden as a kid down to the river and only going home when I’d finished eating the whole thing, planting seeds with my grandmother, picking and eating the Brazilian cherries that grew in my mate’s yard - all of these things are so important to me and come through in my food, from making sure my ingredients at Juni are just as fresh as those cherries and watermelons I picked, to recreating the flavours and textures I loved so much growing up. What made you realise you wanted to be a chef?JUNI New lobster dish - tasting menu © Shaun Hergatt In high school I was very passionate about art and considered going to university to study art history but soon it started feeling like food was part of my destiny and a huge part of my identity. For part of my childhood I was in and around commercial kitchens as my father was a chef and his friends all worked in restaurants, so really early on cooking kept popping up as a possible career path. As a teenager during school I worked in a hotel, where I kept finding myself drawn to what was happening in and around the kitchen. Originally from Australia, how and why did you make the move to New York?
Top five restaurant meals: Daniel - is one of the most impressive places to dine in New York and definitely one of my favourite places to have a meal. I have a huge respect for Chef Boulud and the restaurant’s classic cooking and ambience. My most memorable meal ever was at Tetsuya in Sydney. At the end, we were given the most simple but delicious dish- half a peach with some peach sorbet- but it was one of the most sublime things that I have ever tasted. Osteria Francescana in Modena as I think Chef Bottura is a genius. L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris, was a crazy experience. Geranium in Copenhagen - amazing desert that was just so simple – berries with beeswax ice cream. Utterly delicious and somewhat ethereal. Top 5 comfort foods: Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Scotch! Sushi from my neighbourhood sushi joint- Hasaki Macarons from Ladurée on Madison Bulla bread (braided Scandinavian bread that my grandmother used to make    when I was growing up)
When I was a teenager, I started off doing a four-year apprenticeship at Crystal Twig, a fine dining restaurant in Cairns. I was drawn to the big city, so moved to Sydney where I became chef de cuisine of The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton. When the same position came up at The Atelier in New York, I jumped at the chance.  Five years later, I moved south to become the executive chef at The Setai in Miami, and then decided to go back to New York in 2009, where I opened up SHO in the Financial District. Which top chefs have you worked with and how have they influenced you? Gabriel Kreuther—my old chef at Atelier, at the Ritz-Carlton, Central Park—introduced me to foie gras and taught me to do all this crazy stuff with it. We had kilos of black and white truffles and he would shave white truffle over bruschetta with foie gras from the Hudson Valley. Foie gras was a big thing for him, but for me it was an education point. It was a product I was not familiar with and Gabriel was very patient with me. He taught me how to work. How would you describe your food style and philosophy? I’m a classically trained, creative modernist. My cooking is organized and technically precise and inspired by nature, art and my daily life in New York. At Juni I talk about seasonality. But for me it means so much more than four seasons. My food philosophy revolves around the many, many micro-seasons that occur throughout the year that can last for just a few weeks or a month. I pick the ripest and finest product available at that time and serve it as the star so ramps and apricots that are in season for about a month only appear on the menu during that time. To make it onto the menu, produce has to be at its very ripest and having grown up on a farm where I learnt how to cook straight from the earth, ‘ripeness’ comes as second nature to me. It is a really important thing for me to turn every meal into a special occasion for my guests. I want people to leave the restaurant having forged lifetime memories; as for me food is all about joy and experiences. How does having your own restaurant compare to working for others?   For me, the most rewarding thing in the world is that our reputation here at Juni keeps growing and improving. It’s all about reputation. Ratings matter because I want to get people through the door but the most important to me is building my reputation and making experiences for people. If I die tomorrow and haven’t had a book out or opened 35 restaurants, I wouldn’t mind, as long as I knew that I was good at what I did.JUNI -Santa Barbara sea urchin - spot prawn tartar - nito uni ice 1 © Shaun Hergatt My main goal right now is for our team to be successful, to be rewarded and to enjoy what we have planted here at Juni. I’ve planted the seed here and want to see it grow. I do feel like I am in the immature stages of my career so you never know what is going to happen -  who knows where things could end up! What made you want to be part of Obsession? The level of enthusiasm and attention to detail that Nigel and Lisa’s team at Northcote showed in the early stages of organisation was really impressive. The line-up is an absolute knockout too, so for me it was a non-brainer! Do you have a signature dish? JUNI - Fresh hearts of palm- Purple basil- shaved spring onions © Shaun HergattMy trademark, classic dish at Juni is a reimagining of my favourite chocolate bar from when I was a kid back in Australia- The Cherry Ripe. My homage to the Cherry Ripe is made of chocolate, coconut and cherries (as with the chocolate bar) but adds a very grown-up ingredient- foie gras. What do you think of British chefs and the UK’s cuisine at the moment? I am really excited about trying out The Ledbury when I’m down in London, I’ve heard such great things about Brett Graham over the years, so I’m pleased that I finally have the opportunity to go to the restaurant. All image credit goes to Juni’s website - www.juninyc.com 12 East 31st Street, New York, NY 10016, United States.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th February 2015

Shaun Hergatt, executive chef, Juni, New York