Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten on Sustainable Eating & How It Has Transformed His Restaurants

By Nicole Schubert | December 28, 2018 | Food & Drink

The culinary emperor, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, is taking over the New York dining scene with three health conscious and eco-friendly eats and it was as simple as do re mi.

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abc Restaurants—including abc kitchen, abc cocina, and the newest abcV—are Manhattanites go-to choice for sustainable eats. With a passion for using fresh, organic, and local ingredients, abc restaurants are committed to presenting Flat Iron foodies with delectable dishes that are just as ornately beautiful as they are tantalizingly delicious. And this fall, the emperor is releasing his secret gold, with new autumn dishes released by himself and his top chef team. So we sat down with Jean-Georges to hear more about his secrets in the kitchen, founding the ultimate sustainable stomping ground, and his newly launched menu items featured at the abc restaurants.

Coined as one of the world's most notable chefs, tell us your secret of how you became a master in the kitchen.
JEAN-GEORGES VONGERICHTEN: I didn’t rush the process. Rather, I learned the ins and outs of the kitchen, working every station. I traveled and trained at three-star Michelin restaurants in France as well as working in Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong. I then became the executive chef of Lafayette in NY and after five years opened my first restaurant JoJo. Today, even though I own and operate 38 restaurants worldwide, you can still find me in my chef jacket in the kitchen five days a week.

Did you always want to become a chef? How did it all begin?
JGV: No I did not.

It all began on my 16th birthday when my parents took me to dinner at Auberge d L’ill, a three star Michelin restaurant. I was awestruck by the food and service. When the chef came out to meet us my father asked him if he needed someone to wash dishes. I began a few months later as an apprentice and the rest is my history.

What was the first dish you cooked, where was it, and who taught you?
JGV: Starting in pastry at Auberge de l'Ill was instrumental in learning precision as it’s very different from the hot kitchen, everything needs to be precise in pastry recipes.

The first dish I learned was vanilla ice cream with fresh Madagascar vanilla.

Who inspired you most—at the early stages of your career—and who inspires you now?
JGV: My mom. She is 85 years old and still the best cook I know. She taught me how to cook “a la minute” and most importantly how to taste.

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You're now responsible for the operation and success of multiple three and four star restaurants worldwide. What is the story behind the creation of New York's most beloved—and adored—abc Restaurants?
JGV: Abc kitchen opened in 2010 and was curated in alignment with the farm- to- table movement which I had been doing for years at both Jean-Georges and Mercer Kitchen. Our menu is free of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, antibiotics, hormones, is GMO-free, and naturally and humanely sourced from regional farmers and fair trade cooperatives, celebrating community and the future of the slow food movement.

Mirroring my ethos of farm to table, abc cocina expanded to integrate a global palate, featuring small plate Spanish and Latin inspired fare. abcV sprouted from abc kitchen and is inspired by Jean-Georges and Paulette’s personal journey and the cultural shift towards a plant-based diet.

With a mission to revolutionize the way we eat, your signature cuisine features intense flavors and textures from vegetable juices, fruit essences, light broths, and herbal vinaigrettes. How do abc Restaurants capitalize on this mission?
JGV: With the Union Square farmers market steps away from the abc restaurants there is a large focus on using local and seasonal ingredients. I like to create simple dishes allowing for the ingredients to speak for themselves.

You recently launched a new fall menu at abc restaurants including dishes like kabocha squash and smoked mozzarella empanadas and beet and ginger soup with caraway creme fraiche and chives. What ingredient, aroma, or flavor would you say you focused on most? And is there a specific theme?
JGV: I always like to have contrast of flavors like acidity from citrus, fermentation, heat from chilis and spices.

With a commitment to serving the freshest ingredients possible in the New York area, what local, sustainable, and seasonal produce can we expect to see on the new menu?
JGV: Right now, you can find a lot of different varieties of squash, root vegetables and mushrooms on the menus.

At abcV, it is a goal of yours to inform and inspire plant based intelligence, through creativity and deliciousness. How would you say you're instructing a cultural shift towards plant based eating?
JGV:
Working with Chef Neal Harden we don’t mimic meat products just plant based without compromising flavors and complexity. I think the food and flavors speak for themselves and will convert any carnivore.



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