My Life In Food: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chef, Spice Market
'In bali, my favourite restaurant serves only duck, which you eat with your hands'
Friday 13 July 2012
One of the most influential chefs of the past two decades, Vongerichten's restaurants have earned a constellation of Michelin stars. One of his restaurants, Jean George in New York, has the three-star maximum. He's written four books, including Simple Cuisine (Wiley), and has a restaurant empire that runs from Puerto Rico to Hong Kong to London, where he has his European flagship, Spice Market.
What are your most and least-used pieces of kitchen kit?
I'd say my most-used piece of equipment is my Microplane, the little grater. I use it for everything; you can use it as a citrus grater or on spice like nutmeg, cheese even – it's one of those all-round helpers. I hardly ever use a microwave, however, the waves scare me. Really the only use for them is to dry herbs.
If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?
I would go to Chinatown, pretty much any one around the world; nearly every major city has one now. I would get dumplings, a noodle soup, and a beer. I spent five years of my life in South-east Asia – Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong – so I really like that type of food.
What do you eat for comfort?
When you work in a restaurant everything is plated, so for me comfort food is an informal, unplated meal. Like a pot-roast chicken with vegetables and potatoes, that sort of thing. I just put it in the middle of the table straight from the oven, so everyone can jump in. I like this type of relaxed family food.
If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
This is a tough one because I like both a lot. I would go, however, for potatoes. You can bake potatoes, fry them, mash and steam them – or even make gnocchi. Bread doesn't have the range of potatoes, but still I would miss simple sourdough.
What's your desert island recipe?
I have a big passion for chilli. So I would want a chilli sauce made from jalapeños, salt, grapefruit juice, ginger leaves – something to season the fish I will catch from the ocean.
What's your favourite restaurant?
My favourite is a place in Bali called, and this is a translation, the Dirty Duck. They serve only one thing there – duck, which they catch in the rice fields surrounding the restaurant. They almost confit them, crisp them up and serve them with salt and pepper and that's it. You eat with your hands, there's no silverware, just the cooked duck in the middle of the table. It's amazing, I crave it as I describe it. A meal with one ingredient has to be pretty good – and it is here.
What's your favourite cookbook?
I love Ferran Adria's cookbooks, they are always a pleasure to read, always interesting. But also I like the older books, too, those concerned with cuisine classique I particularly enjoy – I think it's as important to know of those recipes and techniques as it is to know about the modern methods.
Who taught you to cook?
I know it is a cliché, but my mother, for sure. I've worked in three-Michelin-starred places but she taught me all the important things. How to season, how to balance food, how to use acid. She guided my palette. She would cook for the workers in my family's business every day, all 25 of them; she was inspirational.
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