Johnny Iuzzini

Pastry Chef, Jean Georges

Produced by Marc Santo & Scott Newman
Camera by Rainer Evans
Edited by Kyle Gilman
Interview by Marc Santo

Johnny Iuzzini is arguably one of the best pastry chefs in America. As head pastry chef for the celebrated Jean Georges restaurant in Manhattan, he’s required to turn out some of the world’s most sought after sweets on a daily basis.

Johnny’s resume reads like a Michelin Guide’s list of the world’s top restaurants–he’s worked at the Laduree in Paris, the River Café in Brooklyn and even the famed Payard, where he was right hand man to legendary chef Francois Payard. Though Johnny’s food is based upon his impeccable French foundation, he’s built his reputation by adding a dash of American ideals to the mix. The results are crowd-pleasing recipes that offer a newer, more exciting take on traditional cuisine.

As part of the collective of young and well-trained chefs that include friends David Chang (Momofuku) and Sam Mason (formerly of Tailor), Johnny is out to create menus that are classic, yet served as part of an experience that can’t be found anywhere else.

MARC SANTO: How did you get from “pastry chef” to one of the “top pastry chefs in the country?”

JOHNNY IUZZINI: I got my working papers at age 15 and started working as a dishwasher in the Catskills. Little by little the chef took me under his wing and let me do more. When I was 17 years old, I moved to New York City and started working at the River Café. I always chose to work at the best places and that helped get me where I am today. When people come to Jean Georges, I try to show them something that’s wild yet focused. I want them to see how much thought and complexity goes into everything on their plate.

MARC: You started as a savory chef but switched to pastry. Why?

JOHNNY: It had a lot to do with being precise. People have certain expectations when it comes to an appetizer or an entrée, a treasure at the end of a meal. People are willing to go out on a limb and try something different. The pastry kitchen is much more whimsical, but also intense and precise. In a savory kitchen, five different cooks can cook the same recipe, and each cook will throw a little of this and a dash of that into the meal, and I’ll guarantee you that each dish will taste different at the end of the day. In a pastry kitchen, every gram is measured. It’s so precise and accurate that if you had five cooks cooking the same recipe it would be almost impossible for it taste different…unless they’re complete idiots.

MARC: What could one expect from a dessert at Jean Georges?

JOHNNY: Jean Georges is a very global restaurant. He uses spices and seasonings from all over the world. It’s my job to compliment the path he laid out and create desserts that our customers would never find anywhere else. Our desserts are based on tastings, and every customer can potentially have four different desserts on their plate, so a table of four could have up to 16. I try to adapt and manipulate the product to bring something innovative to the table.

MARC: Where do you get your inspiration?

JOHNNY: I’m not that guy who goes home with a notebook and jots down ideas. I don’t have dreams in the middle of the night and wake up to write an essay on food. My inspiration comes from working with the food, but taste ultimately drives my inspiration.

MARC: People are paying top dollar for a meal at Jean Georges. How do you make sure the desserts remain consistent?

JOHNNY: I come from a very strict French kitchen with a lot of discipline and aggression. I choose not to be that way. I yell, but not for no reason and definitely not for ego. I yell to make people better. I try to keep my staff focused so they can be better than I am someday. When my cooks become successful, I want them to say, “I learned that from Johnny.” That said, one of my pet peeves is cleanliness. I hate when my cooks are dirty. I hate when their stations are dirty and I hate when my kitchen is dirty. I want my cooks to remain precise, and part of that precision is cleanliness. I’m fanatical about that. Even when I get home, I chase my girlfriend around the apartment and make sure she’s not dirty either. I’m kind of crazy.

MARC: What do you cook on a night off?

JOHNNY: At home I try to keep it simple. I work so many hours I don’t have time to cook, so I usually go out to eat and see what the other chefs are doing. I love to get inspired by friends like Sam Mason and David Chang. We’re all from the same generation and we’re all walking the same path. Eating at their places really pushes me to get better. New York is a global empire with some of the best restaurants in the world. It would be a shame if I sat home and subjected myself to my own creations. I would never want to be that guy who eats at the same restaurant every week. I hate eating at the same restaurant twice in one year. Every year thousands of restaurants open up in New York City and I wish I could eat at each one.

Johnny Iuzzini's NYC

Johnny Iuzzini, Pastry Chef at Jean Georges
  • “Blue Ribbon is another place that’s been hyped to death and rightfully so. Chefs still go there and will always go there. The kitchen is open super late so it’s great after a night of bar hopping. It’s absolutely fantastic at three o’clock in the morning.”
  • “David Chang cooks delicious and simple Nuevo Asian type things.“
  • “Frankie DeCarlo cooks real rustic Italian. He loves to cook and his passion comes through in every single bite you eat. He made his own brick oven and he and his wife are there every single day cooking. Every time I eat his food, I question if I should even be cooking. This will be one of the best Italian meals of your life.”
  • “If you’re looking for food that you won’t find anywhere else I would definitely head to wd-50. Wally Dufresne cooks hyper-American food that’s very intellectual and modern. Eating there is an experience in itself.”
  • “Lupa is part of the Mario Batali family and has been on people’s radar for years. This place is still really delicious. They serve rustic and hearty Italian food and they’re not pretentious at all.”
  • “This is a crazy nightclub-like restaurant in Koreatown that serves this crazy Korean double-fried chicken. The chicken is awesome and super crispy so it’s well worth the noise and great place to eat late at night.”
  • “Pho 32 is another great spot that I try to hit at least once a week. I always get the raw beef and the broth is rich and delicious. This is my go to spot if I’m feeling under the weather. The best part of it all is that they’re open 24 hours.”
  • “This place, run by the amazing chef Seamus Mullen, has a nice vibe to it and it’s well worth eating at to experience their excellent Spanish-style tapas.”
  • Lever House Restaurant - Source:
    “Off the hook pork dishes.”
  • “Very fresh and innovative sushi.”
  • “Spot-on outstanding cocktails and out of the ordinary bar snacks.”
  • "Always a good inexpensive standby."
  • "Always a good inexpensive standby."
  • Union Square Greenmarket
    "Every Wednesday and Saturday I like going and eating berries and talking to farmers and seeing what's coming into season."
  • Koreatown is still a great place to go for spice houses, ingredients and good food. There are still restaurants you can find that hardly anyone knows about. Places that haven't been on any food blogs yet and that don't have a line."
  • “Chef George Mendes cooks delicious Mediterranean food inspired by his Portuguese roots. The shrimp alhinho and the arroz de pato are two dishes that you definitely don’t want to miss!”

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