While other luxury brands are hosting pop-ups, the Four Seasons is bucking trends with a global series of Pop Downs. The first took place in Toronto in the fall of 2017—kicking off a new, one-night-only kind of immersive soirée that merged food, drink, and creativity.
Next, Four Seasons celebrated its soon-to-open location in Philadelphia (coming in the spring of 2019), set atop Comcast’s new tower in Center City. Designed by Sir Norman Foster, the location will feature restaurants by chef Greg Vernick and chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and creative direction from celebrity florist Jeff Leatham. In late September, in collaboration with NetJets, the hospitality group’s Pop Down got the word out about what’s to come with interactive floral installations around the city and a one-of-a-kind event in South Philly.
In anticipation of what’s to come, Whitewall spoke with Vongerichten. His restaurant at the Philadelphia location will boast incredible panoramic views of the city, not just thanks to its place on the 60th floor, but also because of a brilliant mirrored installation on the ceiling, designed by Foster.
We spoke with the world-famous, New York–based chef about what it’s like to create a culinary experience in a new city, and learned why if he hadn’t become a chef, he would have been an architect.
WHITEWALL: When imagining a new restaurant in a new city, what are the things you consider?
JEAN-GEORGES VONGERICHTEN: First, we have to consider our partners. When Brian Roberts of Comcast approached me, they invited us to Philadelphia, and we jumped on a train. We saw the building is by one of my favorite architects, Sir Norman Foster, so how can you say no?
The architecture is amazing. So we have the right partners. And I love Philly. It’s a great food town.
WW: How does location affect a menu?
JG: The menu will be our flavors from New York, of course. I use a lot of chilis—my years in Asia background. But I’ll work with the local markets and local flavors, and bring something different, too, that’s not on the market yet. We’ve got the best view of Philly, so it’s going to be fun.
We always adapt to wherever we go. We’ve been coming here every month now for a couple days to eat. I was at Zahav last night. We’re seeing what people eat, what they like. But it’s not much different than New York. They are foodies, they go out every day, they like to eat, drink, and are happy people. It’s very similar.
WW: What was it like to work with Sir Norman Foster on the design of the restaurant?
JG: He’s the master, Sir Norman Foster. When they asked me who I wanted to design the restaurant, I said, “Are you kidding me?” We worked together closely with him and it was like a dream.
He asked us what we wanted, so we had to really work closely together for him to know that process of the restaurant. And he’s created an amazing mirrored ceiling. When you are so high like that, you don’t see the ceiling—you only see the horizon. When you look up at the mirror installation, you see the streets of Philadelphia, you see the taxis driving. It makes you feel like you’re in the scene. He’s a brilliant mind, and it was amazing to work with him.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an architect or a chef. Today, working with this amazing person was a dream.
WW: How did you decide?
JG: I wasn’t so good in school, to be honest. I had no choice.
WW: So now you get to work with architects.
JG: I feel design and food are very similar. The layers, textures . . . In food, we have a plus because we get to test it. I like to ask a lot of questions, so as a restaurateur I got to become an architect for a bit.
WW: How did you pick the three dishes for the Four Seasons Pop Down in Philly?
JG: I wanted to dazzle a little bit. We had to bring some caviar, some truffle. We’re new here, so we had to give a little bit of what we do. And I wanted to cook in front of people. For me, that’s what it is about. We have to do a little show to make sure people embrace us.