Jean-Georges Vongerichten is a titan in the culinary scene, known not only for his mastery in the kitchen but also for his skills as a businessman and entrepreneur. Throughout his storied career, he has created an empire of more than 30 restaurants throughout the world, has earned enough stars to merit a constellation, and could fill a case with his awards.
Born and raised in France, Vongerichten, or simply Jean-Georges as he’s often known, trained at three-starred restaurants throughout his home country before travelling to Asia, where he fell in love with Eastern flavours — a facet that informs his menus around the globe. Celebrities and leaders flock to his restaurants, and his eponymous flagship, Jean-Georges in Trump International Hotel and Tower is a favourite of United States President Donald Trump.
In town to celebrate the first anniversary of Mercato Hong Kong, his second venture in Asia, Vongerichten speaks with #legend about his work, avocado toast and Mason jars.
You have more than 30 restaurants around the world, serving a variety of cuisines. What connects your restaurants and what makes them distinctly Jean-George’s restaurants?
As a meticulous and hands-on person, I like to be involved in all aspects of my projects. From the front of house operations to the back of house designs, I work closely with designers and consultants to create unique concepts. My restaurants are also set apart from other restaurants by the little details and nuances. For instance, each project boasts L’Observatoire lighting that helps craft the distinct Jean-Georges ambiance.
How do you choose your restaurant locations and how long does it take to come up with a new concept?
In the past, I have been blessed with relationships that result in superb business deals. My projects are often inspired and led by those valuable relationships. Each restaurant’s design and development process generally takes anywhere from six t0 24 months.
You’re known for creating the Molten Chocolate Cake. What inspired the recipe?
My famous Molten Chocolate Cake was created by accident. During an event, we had baked too many chocolate cakes, leading us to serve uncooked cakes that oozed from their molten core. To my surprise, everyone loved it and it soon became a highly sought after recipe.
You have a number of celebrity guests, which of them do you think of as a true lover of food?
Who isn’t? Each and every one of them visits my restaurants because they enjoy good food and love the flavours that we use.
What’s on your playlist right now?
My taste in music varies according to what I am doing at present. I have an eclectic taste that fluctuates from classics to Coldplay.
How would you describe your personal style when you’re not in the kitchen? Do you have any favourite brands?
When not in the kitchen, I dress in a simple manner. Most of my clothes are black because it’s easy to match.
What other chefs around the world do you think are really changing the industry for the better and doing amazing things with their work?
I believe that any chef who teaches with reverence and respect for quality ingredients is making an impact. Anyone who truly respects our craft is doing amazing things with their work. All over the world, there are a lot of chefs who are making a difference daily by putting themselves out there and being creative with the culinary arts.
I wonder how you feel about these trends? Avocado toast?
Artful and beautiful when used correctly and minimally.
Chefs on Twitter?
Sure, why not? We chefs have impactful things to say too.
The rise of food porn and the growing foodie generation?
The love of food and its beauty is great but I’m not so sure about the fetishisation.
Meals served in Mason jars?
If the food itself is delicious, who am I to judge?
Taking pictures of food before eating?
It’s definitely a part of dining now.
This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of #legend magazine