In the fourth installment of At the Chef's Table with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, The Daily Meal's video producer Ali Rosen sat down the the chef to discuss JoJo and his flagship restaurant, Jean Georges.
After two years at the Lafayette in the Drake Swissôtel, Vongerichten had made a name for himself due to the success of the restaurant and felt that it was time to step out on his own, so when he asked the management to let him buy Lafayette and they refused he resigned and gave them six months to find a new chef. His next step was opening JoJo.
While plotting his next move, Vongerichten noticed that JoJo was available for rent and he jumped on the opportunity. The restaurant had a much cozier and more intimate environment and it opened to rave reviews from the start. According to Vongerichten, "In the year that JoJo opened, in 1991, over 200 restaurants closed in New York City, so I decided not to go on the high-end side, I decided to find a little bistro and do my food in a more casual atmosphere and I needed to learn the business."
Riding on the coattails of JoJo's success, Vongerichten opened Vong, which was a much larger space and would eventually become a small chain. "I always had in mind to create a fantasy of blending French techniques with Thai ingredients, and that's what Vong came out of," he says. The concept was one that had clearly been influenced by Vongerichten's time living in Asia, "Well I'm not Asian but I lived there for five years and I know the herbs and how to extract the flavors of the spices, so mixing the French technique with American ingredients and Asian spices was it,"
By 1995 Vongerichten had both JoJo and Vong in New York and Hong Kong up and running and felt like he didn't need to open any more restaurants. But Philip Johnson, who was designing the Trump Hotel, convinced Vongerichten to open his high-end flagship restaurant in the spece. "I wanted to go back to the game, the challenge. As a chef you always have to challenge yourself and raise the bar."
Stay tuned for more from Jean-Georges Vongerichten in the next chapter of At the Chef's Table.