Like many of our icons on The New Potato, Jean-Georges Vongerichten has become more than just a restaurateur. He’s become a creative director, a CEO, a businessman, and an overall maestro of cuisine. He also may just be the most dapper restaurateur we’ve met (we’ll admit it, we’re crushing a tad). No doubt a man of style, Vongerichten reigns over three and four star restaurants around the globe, and has most recently wowed New York City with ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina (two of our favorites). We shot Vongerichten at another one of his masterpieces – The Mark Restaurant – an Upper East Side treasure. So if you’re cooped up on this snowy day – and even if you aren’t – this is the interview to peruse…
What would be your ideal food day?
I like to start my day at the market in Union Square, because that’s where I get inspired. I would start my day there, walk around, get a few things, and then I would have breakfast. I love Mercer Kitchen for breakfast or The Mark. And then I would jump on a plane for sushi in Tokyo because I love sushi. I have it like two or three times a week. Then I probably would take a plane to the Amalfi Coast to have a little pasta for lunch with some seafood – like a Clam Vongole Spaghetti. And then I would take a plane to Bangkok and have some spicy food at night. Then I would take another plane to Paris and would have some dessert with Pierre Hermé. And then, hopefully, I’m back in time for bed. I need a special plane for this one – a time-travel machine. I think if you could follow the hour pattern, because if you go to Asia it’s twelve hours ahead, you probably could do the tour of the world in the same day. If you leave Asia at ten o’clock in the morning, you arrive the same day in New York at ten in the morning. So you could have two breakfasts – one in Tokyo, and one in New York [laughs]. So, you know, a couple of European meals and a couple of Asian meals in the same day would be ideal.
How would you define your brand?
I’ve been cooking for forty years. I started when I was sixteen, and so the brand is composed of so many different concepts. I started in Alsace [France], where I’m from, and so there is some influence from my region. Then I went to the South of France, so there is a lot of olive oil, tomato, and basil. And then I went to Asia for five years – Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo – so there are a lot of chilies and spices involved in the brand. New York is the perfect town for me to develop my brand because there are so many different communities here. It is really a New York brand – a little bit of a melting pot. We have concepts from farm-to-table (like ABC Kitchen) to Spanish (ABC Cocina). We have Spice Market, which is street food from Southeast Asia. We have The Mark, which is a little more International cuisine. I usually define my brand on the concept of which area in New York you are. ABC Kitchen is a half a block away from the market, so it’s all inspired by the market. Up here [at The Mark], you have to create more of a living room for people living in the neighborhood, so we have something on the menu for everyone, whether you are in the mood for a burger, a pizza, some sushi, some caviar, or a whole roast chicken. I try to really measure where I am in the area and really give people where they are.
And now you’ve just opened ABC Market right? The food market below ABC Carpet & Home?
We’re doing a food market that just opened, and then we’re opening a vegetarian restaurant in the spring – 100% vegetarian, raw, and vegan. Right now we’re starting to import and use local things that we don’t make. But eventually, we’ll do our own jams under the ABC label. The brand is growing and changing.
How do you keep each of your restaurants relevant and timeless? So many restaurants open and close but your restaurants have longevity.
Here at The Mark for instance, it’s a very classy hotel from 1925. By using Jacques Grange as a designer, we brought back the glamour from the Upper East Side. I think the decor is timeless in a timeless building. If you look at ABC Kitchen, the building is from 1910, so we kept the beams and the farm look. I think it’s very important to be in sync with your zip code, the building that you’re in, and the people in the neighborhood. That’s very important for me.
The concept you’re building also has to be in sync with a little bit of the history, and then it becomes timeless. If you do something just for the moment – a flash in the pan – you last six months, a year or two, and then you’re gone. My first restaurant was JoJo, which we opened in 1991, and it’s still there because we created a restaurant for the neighborhood first, and then people came.