2016 Best Restaurateur: Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s culinary innovations and impressive restaurateur skills have given birth to more than two dozen establishments worldwide, from New York to Paris to Tokyo.
Vongerichten grew up on a farm in Alsace, France, where his mother and grandmother taught him to cook and appreciate seasonality. He started his culinary training in France, but it was the time he later spent working and traveling in Asia in the 1980s that proved formative. (He cites his first trip to an open-air market in Bangkok as being particularly eye-opening.)
Serving as a protégé to chef Louis Outhier, Vongerichten’s career trajectory led him to the United States. He first made an impression on New York’s dining scene at Lafayette in the Drake Swisshôtel, then struck out on his own with Jojo in 1991. At this French fusion bistro, he pioneered his signature style of cooking with Asian spices, infused oils, vegetable juices and exotic vinaigrettes, while using a minimum of butter, cream and flour.
His next New York venture was French-Thai fusion eatery Vong, which eventually spawned sister restaurants in London, Hong Kong and Chicago. In March 1997, Vongerichten opened Jean-Georges in the Trump International Hotel & Tower New York. This fine-dining flagship has been honored on GAYOT’s Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S. since the inception of the list. It’s also on GAYOT’s New York Top 10 lists for highest food ratings, top French restaurants, best wine lists and special occasion dining. Diners can expect the highest quality ingredients and risk-taking dishes.
In the late 1990s, Vongerichten continued to create new concepts, including Mercer Kitchen in New York and Prime Steakhouse at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, but it’s in the new millennium that his growing empire entered a new era. The founding of Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges with financial partner Phil Suarez, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. and Catterton Partners allowed for further global expansion for Vongerichten-created restaurant brands such as Spice Market, J&G Steakhouse, J&G Grill and others. Perhaps the most remote outpost is LAGOON by Jean-Georges at The St. Regis Bora Bora in French Polynesia. (In 2011, the company, since called Culinary Concepts Hospitality Group, became a wholly owned subsidiary of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc.)
Jean-Georges Vongerichten went on to explore more flavors of the world with projects like ABC Cocina in New York, which draws inspiration from Spain and Latin America, and the globally influenced Matador Room at The Miami Beach EDITION.
What’s on the horizon for Jean-Georges Vongerichten? Later in 2016, ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina will be joined by a long-awaited vegetarian concept: abcV. He’s also signed on to oversee the food at Ian Schrager’s PUBLIC hotel on the Lower East Side. On top of that, he’s partnered with The Howard Hughes Corporation to open a seafood-driven restaurant and food market in New York’s South Street Seaport (Pier 17) in 2017. But West Coasters needn’t feel neglected: In 2017, Vongerichten will open his first restaurant in the Los Angeles area, at Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills.
> This article is part of GAYOT’s 2016 Annual Restaurant Awards.