The Al­chemist

In this mag­a­zine exclusive, celebrity chef Jean-georges Von­gerichten shares with Shamilee Vellu his cur­rent pre­oc­cu­pa­tions: veg­eta­bles, toast­ers and cook­ing for Donald.

Robb Report (Malaysia) - - Travel & Fine Dinning -

One of the world’s most fa­mous chefs, Jean- Georges Von­gerichten is par­tic­u­larly adept at har­ness­ing the culi­nary zeit­geist. His lauded New York flag­ship Jean-georges re­cently cel­e­brated its 20th an­niver­sary, but the tire­less (and seem­ingly age- de­fy­ing) sex­a­ge­nar­ian is still adding to his global em­pire of 35 restau­rants.

From his de­but on the New York scene at Lafayette in the Drake Swis­so­tel (where he was crowned ‘en­fant ter­ri­ble of mod­ern French cook­ing’), Von­gerichten has in­flu­enced many a din­ing epoch. He has traded fine din­ing for ca­sual chic at charm­ing bistro Jo Jo, pi­o­neered fu­sion cook­ing at Vong, and most re­cently, launched the highly an­tic­i­pated abcv, where veg­eta­bles take cen­tre stage. In March, Von­gerichten opened his first restau­rant in Sin­ga­pore, Dempsey Cook­house and Bar, in part­ner­ship with the Como Group. With the explosion of all the juice bars, more peo­ple go­ing ve­gan and gluten-free, I thought it was time to do some­thing new, dif­fer­ent. In the ’80s to the 2000s, we were eat­ing a lot of eggs and beef. In the US es­pe­cially. You or­der a big steak and get, like, two string beans. They eat too much for break­fast there – ba­con, eggs, sweets, pan­cakes, French toast. I think we’re now go­ing back to a diet where there’s more bal­ance. Asia is a good ex­am­ple of this. When I come here, I eat con­gee ev­ery morn­ing! Also, I’m turn­ing 60 next week (16 March), so I need to eat bet­ter, health­ier. On abcv’s plant-fo­cused menu For break­fast, we serve black rice or mil­let con­gee. We have dosa and kitchuri, which is like an In­dian crepe in lentil soup with veg­eta­bles. And of course we have the chia and acai bowls. We have a few dairy prod­ucts like eggs, just to make sure we don’t push peo­ple away, but abcv’s pretty much 80 per cent veg­e­tar­ian.

“I think we’re now go­ing back to a diet where there’s more bal­ance. Asia is a good ex­am­ple of this.”

Even the sim­ple potato can be de­li­cious. Cau­li­flower is also re­ally un­der­rated. At abcv we serve it whole. First we boil it un­til it’s ten­der, then add turmeric and spices be­fore roast­ing it in the oven. I just found out that ba­nanas are good for your brain. I’ve been cook­ing for 43 years but I’m still learn­ing, you know, about the medic­i­nal as­pect of food.

On what he looks out for at restau­rants

I s tart w ith the bread and but­ter – it’s the first thing you eat. Is the bread made in-house? Is the but­ter tem­pered, or com­ing out hard from the fridge? On the world’s best sushi Be­lieve it or not, it’s not in Ja­pan. I love Ja­pan but the best sushi in the world, I think, is in Masa in New York. The chef works with a Go­pro on his head. He has some­one in Tsuk­iji mar­ket and he sees the fish through the cam­era ev­ery day at 4am Ja­pan time. The fish is on a plane at 10am, lands in New York at noon and is on a plate at 2pm that same af­ter­noon in his restau­rant. His sushi is im­pec­ca­ble, his rice fan­tas­tic. On tak­ing time off When I turned 50, I de­cided not to work seven days a week any­more. I take ev­ery Sun­day off. I’m a good sleeper so I get my 12 hours of sleep. But even when I’m off I cook for fam­ily and friends be­cause that’s what I love to do – maybe a roast chicken with potato, a whole fish, some­thing fam­ily-style. I like to gar­den, fish and in the sum­mer­time – pad­dle­board or wind­surf (I’m a Pisces so I love the wa­ter). I’m so ac­tive I go to sleep be­fore I even hit the pil­low. I think it’s in the genes. My mother, who’s 85, still drives. She’s al­ways ask­ing me to give her one of my restau­rants to run! I usu­ally go to Jumbo for the black pep­per crab. Or the small places like PS Cafe, Open Farm Com­mu­nity. I didn’t re­alise there a re l ike 3 0 r es­tau­rants o n Dempsey Hill! And to­mor­row I’m go­ing back to Sungei Road Laksa for lunch. On his un­usual col­lect­ing ob­ses­sion I col­lect toast­ers. For me, the smell of toast in the morn­ing is un­be­liev­able. It re­minds me of my child­hood. I have about 55 of them. All of them work. The old­est one is from 1923. I saw it in a flea mar­ket when I ar­rived in New York in 1986. It has a coil that glows red and a lit­tle drawer you put the toast in. There’s no security fea­ture. I paid $15 for it. I

“I love Ja­pan but the best sushi in the w orld, I think, is in Masa in New York.”

keep them in my of­fice – I’m not al­lowed to bring them home! On cook­ing for POTUS He has the gar­lic soup with the frog’s legs. He loves the gar­lic soup, which is just gar­lic, thyme and chicken broth, which we fin­ish with an egg and vine­gar. He would never or­der the frogs’ legs by them­selves, but they come with the soup, so he has no choice. He’s a germa­phobe and al­ways has his lamb chop, steak or scal­lops well done. He’s a very ba­sic eater. If he ever called and asked to be sur­prised, I wouldn’t an­swer the phone! (laughs) But I would love for him to try some­thing raw, like a sashimi or a ce­viche. On his last meal It’ll def­i­nitely be in Asia. A laksa, sushi or some­thing Thai, sexy, ex­otic, de­li­cious. A com­bi­na­tion of ev­ery­thing. I’d prob­a­bly die af­ter that – in peace, on a full stom­ach! www. jean- ≠

“For me, the smell of toast in the morn­ing is un­be­liev­able.”

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