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Chefjw.com :: Biography :: (3) Taking the Road Less Traveled

Taking the road less traveled
Chef Wierzelewski cultivated his passion for food early in life. He was raised in Chicago by a family where mealtime was a treasured experience that included beautiful china and silver. He absorbed the concept that food is not merely sustenance but a venue for art, creativity and tradition. "My parents owned a restaurant and my grandmother was an amazing baker," he says. As a child, some of Chef Wierzelewski's best memories are of baking exquisite pastries with his grandmother. "The more I learned from my grandmother, the more I found cooking was a great avenue to express myself creatively."

As a 16-year-old, young James began a two-year internship at the historic Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee. From there, he spent a decade with a hotel restaurant innovator, Hyatt Hotels, working his way up the food chain to executive chef. During these years, Chef Wierzelewski opened several new restaurant concepts for the rapidly expanding Park Hyatt brand at locations across the United States.

In 1991, Chef Wierzelewski began working abroad and apprenticing with some of the most-renowned chefs in the world, including Chef Roland Durand at the two-star Michelin-rated Le Pre Catalan in Paris and Chef Michel Husser at the two-star Michelin-rated Le Cerf in Alsace, France.

These experiences deeply impacted his culinary worldview. "What I learned from European chefs is a great respect for raw products," he says. "They let flavors act themselves rather than creating something that doesn't blend." But, Chef Wierzelewski notes, many European chefs have a hard time breaking from tradition. "All of the food I cook has its roots in proven culinary traditions, with my creative twist on cooking methods and flavor combinations," he says.

This 'signature' is part of Chef Wierzelewski's cooking philosophy. "Food should be simple enough to be understood, yet unique enough to be compelling," he says. "My dishes excite all of the senses with uncomplicated layers of flavor. I use herbs, spices and sauces to enhance fresh vegetables, meats and fish, not to mask flavors."

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© James Wierzewlewski 2010