today is Aug 18, 2022

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Steve Benjamin, the 45-year-old culinary director at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. It has been edited for length and clarity.

As culinary director at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, I oversee the hotel's two restaurants — The Rooftop by JG and the Jean-Georges Beverly Hills — as well as room service and any banquet events. I work closely with the chef-owner of our two restaurants, Chef Jean-Georges. 

Jean-Georges Beverly Hills

Jean-Georges Beverly Hills. Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills

I was born and raised in Paris, where I fell in love with food as a child and trained as a chef at a very young age. Before the Waldorf, I worked as a chef in Las Vegas.

When I start cooking, I feel a sense of passion — but I also like to interact with the tables and personally say hi to each person. I still cook, but I'm at the stage of my career where I also need to teach, mentor people, and share my passion for cooking.

I oversee two luxurious restaurants where we serve hotel guests as well as locals and tourists

Every day when I come to work, I stop by the kitchen to say hello to everyone on our culinary team.

I'm stopping in all departments, because it's important for me to motivate our team daily. It's a respect to say hello to everyone, in my opinion. After 32 years in food and hospitality, I want to share what I've learned and pass that knowledge along. 

My daily routine can range from menu creation to cooking classes

That includes menu changes, banquet duties, overseeing holiday events, and working in the kitchen for any extra-special guest requests. We also have several special dishes at the Waldorf, and we pride ourselves on our seafood. 

We do a Lobster Burger, as well as french fries topped with caviar. I call them the dirtiest, most expensive french fries in Beverly Hills.

The Lobster Burger

The Lobster Burger. Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills

We put between 18 and 20 grams of caviar on the top of a bed of fries, depending on how many people there are sharing them. It's a good sharing dish and goes for $80 a plate.

There's also our Avocado Pizza, which is pretty unique. It's fresh pizza dough with shaved onion, cooked until it's deep golden. (This will be the shell.) It's topped with olive oil, fleur de sel, and avocado, finishing with lime juice and zest, salt, micro cilantro, and Jalapenos. It's very California.

I have a lot of favorite dishes on the menu

But I'd say my ultimate favorite — because I'm a big fan of Japanese cuisine — is the sashimi.  

Three years ago, we had a special menu that combined white truffle, black truffle, and caviar. That menu went for more than $380 per person, not including wine pairings. This menu is only created when we can have these luxury seasonal items available, which is usually from the end of October through January. We have caviar all year. 

The Avocado Carpaccio Pizza

The Avocado Carpaccio Pizza. Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills

We try to create a luxury experience within a banquet by doing a station where we have a really prestigious item, like caviar or truffle. This is for everyday events, as well as with our in-room dining.

I get my truffle delivered from France right here to Beverly Hills, each week. It's that kind of product that we source that's really expensive but worth the cost. 

During the summer, we source the Australian truffle, called the "Manjimup winter truffle," which costs between $500 and $600 per pound. We also source the winter French black truffle from Perigord for between $550 and $700 per pound. 

My favorite part of the property is the rooftop, no matter the weather or time of day

I have a different view from the roof. In the morning, it can be a bit cloudy and foggy, and in the afternoon, it's sunny and hot. You can often see over the hills and all the way to the ocean.

At night, it's a whole different ambiance. I just love coming upstairs and seeing this view. 

I organized a private event on the rooftop not too long ago for a celebrity rapper 

The rapper wanted to book a table for two for a special Valentine's Day dinner next to the rooftop pool. We set up the area at the pool with a large flower display and some heaters.

He specifically wanted to have a table at the north end of the pool, where you can watch the sunset all the way to Santa Monica and Malibu. We cleared everything out of the entire pool area, just for him, to create a dinner for two with a view of the sunset. There were bodyguards everywhere.

The Rooftop by JG restaurant

The Rooftop by JG restaurant. Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills

We made some special items for them, as well as some classics like the Truffle Burger, the Lobster Burger, Crispy Sushi, Tuna Tartar, Grilled Octopus, the Sashimi Platter, the Strawberry Burrata, and more. We offered a couple of my creations as well, like the French Fries with Caviar. I was the one specifically cooking for him.

We curated the entire evening, especially for them and what they wanted. That evening was really intense, but it turned out to be a lovely, romantic moment. We gave them the best of everything. 

My favorite part of my job is the feeling of community, passion, and sharing every day with my team

I want to make our guests happy and to create an experience that they'll treasure and remember. It's been almost 20 years now that I've been in the States, and I've been with the hotel since 2017. Above all of my many job duties, the most important thing for me is customer service.