"This is incredible stuff," he said. "It's got the sweetness of dill, but it's piercing, almost like menthol. And I taste some thyme in there; it would be perfect for shrimp." Three hours later, we were back home grilling yarrow-stuffed butterflied shrimp for a dozen overjoyed eaters. The yarrow married perfectly with minced garlic, and I swore I'd never eat shrimp with dill again, at least not in yarrow season.
Yarrow-stuffed shrimp will probably be on the menu at Vongerichten's newly opened Jean Georges in Manhattan. So will other dishes containing wild American greens, seeds, barks, herbs and roots. For now, diners who want to taste these novelties will have to go to Jean Georges to get them. If Vongerichten's past record is any indication, though, they'll soon be found in restaurants all over the country.
This isn't the first time 40-year-old Vongerichten has pursued new flavors. In 1980, he left France for Asia. "At that time," he recalls, "I had tasted little beyond the classic French herbs. Suddenly I was confronted with ginger, coconut milk, cilantro and lemongrass." After five years in Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong, Vongerichten moved to the States and went on to galvanize New Yorkers with his personal French-based cuisine--stark flavors, little butter, no cream, juice reductions, flavored oils and (gasp!) Asian ingredients--which synthesized East and West. Whatever he served at Vong, his French-oriented Thai restaurant, and Jo Jo, a traditional-looking bistro with markedly eclectic food, was soon championed by others.