The famous chef tells T+L all about his travel routines, qualities he looks for in a restaurant, and where he likes to discover new food trends.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten has come a long way from washing dishes at Auberge de l'Ill in Alsace, France at his first apprenticeship.
And even though the famed chef recently celebrated 50 years in the business — which includes opening dozens of acclaimed restaurants around the globe — he still has simple cooking hacks that he swears by, even when he's traveling.
“Sometimes I bring Mamafoku dried noodles on the plane or some other brand, maybe P.F. Chang’s," he told Travel + Leisure of his air travel routine. "I get some hot water [from] the flight attendant and I eat that. There is some great ramen you can find with some hot sauce on the side."
Or when he orders from the in-flight menu, similarly, it's no frills for the chef with two Michelin-starred restaurants.
“I try to have the simplest thing on the menu like a cheese plate with a glass of wine or the nuts on the plane," he said. "They’re pretty good, but sometimes, if I’m hungry I’ll go for the chicken or whatever they have.”
Although it may seem like he's covered the globe with high-end eateries, from — most recently — Greenwich, Connecticut, to Shanghai, China, Vongerichten's curiosity about global cuisines and willingness to learn hasn't simmered. Much like any traveling foodie, he told T+L that he loves to stop at markets to see what the latest trends are.
“I must go to the local market whether it is a day market, or night market. You can see how people live," he said. "The first time I saw sumac at the market [was in New York City]. Sumac is now all over upstate New York [and] in the Middle East."
"It’s good to discover these things," he added.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
There are many but the latest one was this place in Japan — an 18-piece sushi. It was unbelievable. I met [the chef] at the sushi market in the morning and he said, 'Come by.' He had sushi with vegetables and it was spectacular.
What cooking tool should everyone own?
Everyone should have a microblade. It’s inexpensive, it’s easy. You can grate cheese, nutmeg parmesan, I like zest from citrus, I grate some butternut squash on some pizza dough.
Where do you get food recommendations?
Today, I was at the market and ran into 5 food people, one writer, two chefs — [you get recommendations] as you walk and just as you talk to people. When I arrived in New York in 1986 and went to Union Square [there were] apricots and potatoes. Today [there's] five-colored carrots, five-colored beets, sumac, amazing beans, amazing peppers, new herbs, and vegetables. It keeps us going and keeps us chefs inspired.
What is the best place to get a coffee in New York or around the world?
At T. Cafe in The Tin Building. I’m choosing mine because it is a really good coffee.
What do you like to do on planes?
I read on the plane and I catch up on movies. Anything new with Tom Cruise. Whatever I haven't seen, I try to do at least one movie on a long flight. I’m usually traveling about a week a month.
As for when it comes to spotting a good restaurant, Vongerichten said there are few things on his checklist for a stamp of approval.
"First of all, you have to have the right concept, which is attention to design, the right team, the right young chef, and young talents in the back of the house," he said, mentioning a story of how one of his restaurants in China managed the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We hadn’t been to [our restaurant JG in Shanghai,] China since 2019 with the lockdown here and there, I didn’t know what to expect," he recalled. "We arrived there and it was the same team. They are importing less from around the world and trying to resource their own: black scallop, king crab, sea urchin. I find the product much better than three years ago and the team is so dedicated."
"So it’s about finding the right talent," he reiterated.
Vongerichten travels the world extensively to find new flavors and cuisines, which is why he can say some of his favorite meals range from a hole-in-the-wall sushi places in Japan to Noma in Copenhagen. He also loves finding the newest, hot restaurants in his home of New York City.
A few of his favorite places in the Big Apple? Dante for a Negroni or oysters is a go-to, he told T+L, and when it comes to newer restaurants he's recently visited and liked is Atla in Noho and he’s looking forward to trying out Bangkok Supper Club in the West Village.
“There is always a new place opening up. When you live in a city like New York, the bar is raised," he said. "It’s a cool way to jump around.”
However, when he's looking to stay in one place and recharge, he heads to his favorite place in the world — his house in St. Barth’s.
“I take my shoes off, I don’t have to visit anything," he said. "I just want to lay in the sun and go in the water. I’m a water guy. I just relax. I love the Caribbean flavors as well. I go to the market. Going to a place like that I know, that is familiar to me, is fun. After 53 years of cooking, I should have some fun!”
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