There's no chef quite as distinguished as Jean Georges Vongerichten. The seasoned French chef oversees nearly three dozen restaurants from New York City to Singapore and holds accolades from the James Beard Foundation, Michelin Guide and The New York Times. It's an impressive feat for any culinary figure, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for Vongerichten.
The culinary powerhouse has traversed the world, working across North America, Europe and Asia, gaining inspiration for his many restaurants along the way. As an avid entrepreneur, Vongerichten spends much of his time on the road, traveling up to a week every month. He doesn't mind it, though. Vongerichten credits traveling for keeping his imagination fresh and for constantly introducing him to new flavors that he can incorporate into his dishes.
"Traveling is how we don't get stale," said Vongerichten. "It keeps me creative and constantly feeds my inspiration."
And creativity is vital to his success. After a hiatus in London with the closure of Vong in 2009, Vongerichten is on the verge of opening his latest restaurant in The Connaught hotel in central London, and he's determined to make it stand out. Jean Georges, as it's aptly called, will personify the elegance that any Vongerichten restaurant displays with immaculate decor and stellar dishes, but it will also offer more casual touches that he believes will set it apart.
In anticipation of the opening in early July, Vongerichten spoke with us about what inspires him, reveals his favorite ingredient and shares the one thing he can't travel without.
Why did you choose London for your new restaurant, Jean Georges?
"We spent 10 years in London with Vong and I have a great memory of the city. We were a part of the big changes in London at the time when we opened first opened, and now London has one of the biggest and best food scenes in the world."
Where is your favorite place to shop for ingredients in New York City?
"Chinatown. I came from 12 years in Asia and a small stint in London before I came to NYC. The only place with a beautiful display of fruits and vegetables was Chinatown. Then, the Union Square farmer's market really started to change. It’s where I could find the ginger, lemongrass and chiles that I love to cook with."
What’s one surprising ingredient you love to cook with?
"My little weapon is Kombu. It's a Japanese seaweed and it has so much flavor. I add it to my red barley and mushroom soup and it really brings out the flavor of the barley. When we make chicken broth, or really any broth, we'll always add some for extra flavor."
What’s the one thing you can’t travel without?
"I can't travel without my iPhone. The first thing I do when I go somewhere is take pictures. I check into the hotel, take a shower and then go to the market and see what’s going on. Taking pictures is how I create my food memories. I try to create food memories for guests in my restaurants. We all have food memories and a restaurant that can deliver a memory will keep you coming back. Well, memories and cravings, of course."
What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
"All vacations are good vacations, but the best food-related would be Bali. Not only was it very spiritual, but it was also very delicious."
What’s your go-to snack?
"I love chocolate. I eat it before I go to sleep, and really, all day long. I can’t live without chocolate, it’s my addiction. It reminds me of my childhood when I'd come home from school, or inside from playing with friends. My grandmother would give me a baguette with butter and a chocolate for a treat."