Jean-Georges Vongerichten adds new restaurants to his empire the way an avid gardener continually makes room for yet one more irresistible perennial. This spring he opens V Steakhouse in the new Time Warner Center in Manhattan, across the street from Central Park, and recently I went there to talk to him about the food. What sauces and condiments does a French chef with an Asian sensibility put on the menu of an American steak house? And since his cooking can be so simple, what is there to learn about a recipe with five ingredients that takes only 15 minutes to make?
When I arrive at the steak house at 11:30 a.m., Vongerichten, in a black sweater and slim black pants, is huddled with several men in suits (is he cooking up a new restaurant deal?) around one of the heavy, French oak dining tables beneath a stylized tree with brass leaves. Jacques Garcia, the restaurant's designer, has brought the park inside. Crystal chandeliers hang from the tree's branches. At night, halogen lights will mimic moonlight, casting shadows through the leaves onto the plush, red velvet upholstered chairs.
At noon Vongerichten is still in his meeting, so Christopher Beischer, the restaurant's chef de cuisine, decides to show me the first recipe, garlic-soy sauce, a kind of Asian beurre blanc. Vongerichten invented it to serve with New York strip steak at 66, his minimalist Chinese restaurant. Beischer sets an empty saucepan on a burner turned to low. "You preheat the pan," he explains, "which takes about two minutes, because you don't want the olive oil in it too long. If the heat's not too high, you won't burn the pan. If you don't preheat the pan, the oil can burn when you turn your head for one second."