VIDEO: Jean-Georges Vongerichten Sits Down at the Chef's Table Part 3
In the third installment of At the Chef's Table with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, The Daily Meal's video producer, Ali Rosen talks with the chef about how moving to Asia, and subsequently the United States, influenced him.
Vongerichten moved to Munich after meeting the German chef who had opened the first three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Germany while working in the south of France. After working at the restaurant in Munich briefly, Vongerichten got a call from his old boss at L'Oasis [Louis Outhier], who told him that the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok was looking for a new sous chef — in 1980 he accepted the position and moved to Thailand.
At the time that he moved to Asia, Vongerichten was 23 years old and had only held positions as a line cook, and without knowing how to speak the language or how to be a sous chef, he leapt at the opportunity. Fortunately the master chef at the restaurant was French and served a menu of dishes that Vongertichten was familiar with. Vongerichten recalls, "The two years I was in Bangkok I said to my cooks in the kitchen, I'm going to teach you what I know, but I want to eat Thai food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I want to learn everything about Thai cooking." He goes on to remark, "Thai food changed my life, because everything starts with a pot of water, lemongrass, some shrimp, some mushrooms, fish sauce, and you've got the best soup in the world."
Once Vongerichten left Bangkok he spent a few years moving around the continent, living in Hong Kong to Singapore. He was cooking French food as his day job, but in the evenings he would experiment, he says, "I was cooking sautéed foie gras with mango and ginger — I was really absorbing all of the flavors."
After taking a tour of Asia, Vongerichten moved to the United States in 1986. When he first arrived in New York City the only place he was comfortable was Chinatown because he didn't know where to shop. The chef opened the Lafayette at the Drake Swissôtel and the response was overwhelmingly positive from the start. About eight months after opening the restaurant Vongerichten started to lighten up his menu (literally, by drawing back the use of butter and cream in dishes) and add Asian ingredients into the flavor profile.
Stay tuned for more from Jean-Georges Vongerichten in the next installment of At the Chef's Table