The celebrated chef in the kitchen at Jean-Georges, one of his 11 NYC restaurants
Jean-Georges’ coveted dishes include egg caviar.
Char grilled squab, crushed sweet peas and nasturtium vinaigrette
Jean-Georges Vongerichten has spent 40 years delivering his artful plates to discerning palates. Here, the world-renowned chef, cookbook author and lord of a 36-restaurant empire discusses trends, future plans and family-style dinners at home.
If someone who has obviously been living under a rock asks what you do for a living, what do you say? In other words, how do you define yourself?
I’m a cook. I’ve been cooking for 40 years and still love it. I’m an entrepreneur now, because after 40 years, you do different things. But I’m a cook at heart—that’s it.
On a personal level, what do you get out of it?
I get satisfaction out of pleasing people. That’s my passion. On the weekends, I [prepare food] for friends and famiIy, and I do it Monday through Friday for customers all over the world.
Have you ever made a bad dish?
I’ve had many flops. I did a dish in the early ’90s at Lafayette Restaurant in the Drake Hotel. I was trying to be experimental. I did a sparkling vegetable broth, served cold in the summer. It was baby carrots, peas, all kinds of vegetables, and I put it in a seltzer bottle. The vegetables were bobbing up and down because of the carbonation... everything was moving. After a couple of weeks, I took it off the menu. It sounded cool at the time, but nobody liked it, except me.
What’s a typical dinner at home?
The one thing I never do at home is put food on a plate. Everything I serve is family-style. I put everything in the middle of the table and we all help ourselves. It’s more familiar, more casual, more about sharing. My wife does all the cooking at home in NYC because I work all week and I’m never home before midnight. We both cook on weekends at our country house [in the northern Westchester hamlet of Waccabuc]. I love summer, because every week there are new fresh vegetables, fruits and berries.
Where do you shop for ingredients in NYC?
The only place I go is the Union Square Greenmarket, because I don’t have time to go to the harbor and farms every day. From May to November, we buy 90 to 95 percent of our vegetables and produce at the market for all the restaurants. I’m guaranteed that everything is local. When I first arrived in New York
in 1986, the only place I was comfortable shopping for food was Chinatown, because I had just come from Hong Kong. I sometimes still go there.
I love Marea for pasta, Sushi Seki for late-night sushi, Le Bernardin when I want high-end seafood. I live two blocks from The Spotted Pig, so sometimes I go there for a burger after 10:30 or 11pm. My guilty pleasure is chocolate. I have a piece of it almost every night before I go to sleep.
Your thoughts on current trends?
I think we’re through with the molecular cooking. People really want to know what they’re eating. Where was their fish caught? Where was their meat raised? Are there hormones? People come to ABC Kitchen because we deliver great flavor, and they know what they’re eating. Also, I feel that Astoria is the next hot spot for chefs. There’s a lot of up-and-coming young talent out there.
Any future plans?
I have too many restaurants already! I get three phone calls a week about projects all over the world. I like to open places in destinations where I like to go. I love Shanghai, Singapore, Paris, London, Italy. If there’s an opportunity to do something there, I go.