Pulp Romance

A French chef enamored with Asia shows his passion for cooking with orange, lemon and grapefruit.
For a chef drilled in the French tradition who abandoned himself to the heady flavors of Asia, citrus may be the perfect ingredient. Lemons, native to India, and oranges, originally from China, appeal to Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Gallic side because of their sheer usefulness. "It's that French chef thing of not wanting to waste anything," says Vongerichten, the owner of a burgeoning restaurant empire, including Market, his newest, in Paris. "I juice half a case of lemons and I think, 'Now I have half a case of rinds to cook with.' Otherwise I'd just have to pay to have them hauled away as garbage."

Vongerichten gets animated when talking about the virtues of citrus: "You can eat it, you can drink it, you can candy it, and you can sweeten with it--or make something tart," he says. Vongerichten adds sweet blood-orange juice to offset the bitterness of endives and blood-orange zest in a cod dish with a citrus glaze. Conversely, he stirs juices from two types of lemon--Meyers, with their overtones of tangerines, and mouth-puckering Eurekas--into a basil risotto to cut the rich mascarpone, Parmesan cheese and butter. 

You can also use citrus in a marinade. At Market, which features Vongerichten's version of a raw bar, sea scallops are doused with a blend of orange, grapefruit and lemon juices, which virtually cooks the seafood. Vongerichten adds a dice of roasted bell pepper to this seviche. "I like to contrast something cooked with something raw," he says. "It's the Asian part of me." To Vongerichten, these recipes are just another way of bringing his two gastronomic halves together.

--Jane Sigal

PUBLISHED March 2002