Los Angeles native Josiah Citrin is a veteran of the gourmet dining industry. His family was his first introduction to the world of food and led to his decision to become a chef. He studied in Paris and returned to the United States to work under the tutelage of chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Joachim Splichal. In 1996, he opened his first restaurant, JiRaffe, followed by Mélisse in 1999.
We asked Chef Citrin about his earliest cooking inspirations and how his own cooking style has evolved.
Bocuse d’Or USA: Why are you a part of the Bocuse d’Or USA?
Josiah Citrin: I think it’s important to support culinary history and cooking as well as the true craft and mastery of it that great cooking represents. Bocuse d’Or not only represents but focuses on the integrity of our field and this really matters for present and future generations of chefs.
Bocuse d’Or USA: Why is the Bocuse d’Or competition important in the grander culinary world?
Josiah Citrin: It focuses on the quality and mastery of our craft as opposed to the “celebrity” status that has become increasingly popular over the years.
Bocuse d’Or USA: What does “American Cuisine” mean to you?
Josiah Citrin: American cuisine is a reflection our country – it’s a melting pot of cultures, flavors, technique and diversity that makes it so unique. We are the only country in the world that can really embrace the food and fiber of another culture and suddenly fold it into our way of preparing and eating so that it becomes a part of our everyday life. This alone makes American cuisine one that always has the amazing potential because of its capability of expanding.
Bocuse d’Or USA: What makes a great chef?
Josiah Citrin: Creativity, mastery of technique and craft. Leadership skills are also an important component – the ability to inspire your staff in the kitchen and front of the house so that they understand and share your vision; to be collectively inspired has an enormously positive effect on your guests and the outcome of what you created together.
Bocuse d’Or USA: What inspired you to start cooking?
Josiah Citrin: My mom. She ran a catering business out of her house and I was surrounded by great food from a young age.
Bocuse d’Or USA: Who is your greatest culinary inspiration? Why?
Josiah Citrin: Georges Vernotte was the first chef I worked with when I moved to France. He taught me the dedication and hard work it would take to become a great chef. Then there’s Joel Robuchon. The very first cookbook I bought at the age of 18 was Robuchon’s, “Ma Cuisine Pour Vous”. The simplicity of the ingredients he used combined with the complexity of preparation and techniques that he employed served as an enormous inspiration to me. It made me want to work even harder to achieve my goals of becoming a good chef.
Bocuse d’Or USA: When did you open your first restaurant?
Josiah Citrin: I opened my first restaurant JiRaffe in April of 1996.
Bocuse d’Or USA: How did you develop your personal cooking style?
Josiah Citrin: The chefs I worked for taught me a lot about of their work ethic and techniques (practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect). I take those tools I learned and applied them to my own vision. From there, my style evolved from having access to the bounty of amazing produce that is available to us in California.
Bocuse d’Or USA: How has your personal cooking style changed over the years?
Josiah Citrin: I’ve definitely become more competitive about sourcing my ingredients and finding the best product. From there, I like to focus on a particular ingredient and enjoy the creative process of finding different techniques to coax as much flavor as possible so that the flavor profile of a single item is elevated to its maximum potential.
Bocuse d’Or USA: What advice do you have for young chefs and restaurateurs who are just getting started?
Josiah Citrin: Set a clear vision of who and what you want to be as a chef or restaurateur. Stay focused and committed to that vision without compromising your integrity, but remain flexible as your talent and skill evolves. Whatever you do, don’t lose sight of what it is you set out to do. Make sure you share your vision and passion with those who can and will help you realize it if you are clear about that dream.
Thank you to Chef Citrin for taking the time to answer our questions. To learn more about him, check out melisse.com/josiah-citrin.