A Comprehensive Guide to the Jean-Georges Empire
In late July, Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened a new restaurant in London luxury hotel The Connaught—his first to serve a full menu at breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea. The sleek, sunny spot in London's Mayfair neighborhood marks the 37th restaurant in Vongerichten's global portfolio, and his 8th opening this year alone. Beginning in February with the debut of the vegetable-focused abcV in New York City, the legendary French chef has since unveiled restaurants in Singapore, São Paulo, Brazil and Los Angeles. And there are still four more months left in 2017.
"I'm not searching just to open restaurants," said Vongerichten. "It has to be the right property, the right concept and people." And each new restaurant must also have its own character. "It's very important to balance the local identity of a place with the essence of what we do," he said. This sentiment is reflected in each of Vongerichten's menus, including at Jean-Georges at The Connaught, where British classics—fish and chips (subbing the traditional mushy peas for a petits pois remoulade), a full English breakfast—appear with his signature Asian-inspired French cuisine.
Coming to America
The Alsace, France-born chef came to the United States in 1985 via Asia, where he trained in kitchens including the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok and Hong Kong's Mandarin Hotel. After a brief stint in Boston working under French chef Louis Outhier, Vongerichten moved to New York City in 1986 and was the executive chef at the Lafayette restaurant in the now-shuttered Drake Hotel before opening his first restaurant, JoJo, with restaurateur Phil Suarez in 1991. An Upper East Side mainstay, the contemporary French bistro is temporarily closed for renovations and is set to reopen this fall.
Fast Food and Fine Dining
Vongerichten's restaurants now span the globe, located in eleven countries and ranging in concept from Simply Chicken, a fast-food stall in Madison Square Garden where visitors can tuck into an Asian chicken sandwich or chicken hot dog with slaw and spicy mustard, to the three Michelin-starred Jean-Georges. It was at the swank Columbus Circle restaurant where chef Vongerichten perfected signature dishes like Egg Caviar (a layer of scrambled eggs topped with whipped cream and a dollop of caviar, presented inside an egg shell), lobster tartine and garlic soup with sautéed frog legs—now all part of a tasting menu comprised of seven of these courses for $218. While a sandwich at Simply Chicken costs less than $15, Jean-Georges remains one of New York City's best deals to experience luxe fine dining at $58 for a two-course lunch.
Expanding the Empire
Including Jean-Georges and Simply Chicken, thirteen of the chef's restaurants are located in New York City. The remaining twenty-four are spread out in other cities (Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo), in seaside and tropical locales (Le Dock in Fire Island, On the Rocks and The Sand Bar at Eden Rock in St. Barts) and in the suburbs (The Inn at Pound Ridge in Westchester, New York.) Eighteen restaurants are inside hotels, like Prime Steakhouse in the Bellagio in Las Vegas and The Mercer Kitchen in New York City's Mercer Hotel.
Over the years, technology has made Vongerichten's sprawling life somewhat easier. "When I started cooking in 1973, I had to go to Asia to learn about spices," he said. "Today you search for tamarind on Google and can see where and how it grows, and thirty recipes to use it. It's a different world." (He maintains he would still rather go to Asia to explore spices.) But to really preserve the brand's essence amid its rapid growth, Vongerichten credits an exceptional team—a dozen members have been with him for decades, including numerous chefs and Lois Freedman, the president of Jean-Georges Management since 1986.
Vongerichten is working on a project with the Howard Hughes Corporation to revamp the Tin Building that was once home to Fulton Fish Market. With a restaurant, oyster and sushi bars and a market with a range of counters, the chef said it will be "Eataly, meeting Harrods in London, with a little more of an industrial feel." It's not due to open for another couple of years, but don't be surprised if several more restaurants debut in the meantime.
Finally, just a for a sense of scale, here's a not-so brief timeline of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's major openings:
1991 Jojo, Upper East Side, NYC
1997 Jean-Georges, NYC
1997 Nougatine and The Terrace
1998 July, The Mercer Kitchen in the Mercer Hotel, SoHo, NYC
1998 October, Prime Steakhouse in Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas
2000 October, Dune at the Ocean Club on Paradise Island in the Bahamas
2001 Market, Paris, France
2004 Jean-Georges, Shanghai
2005 Perry Street, West Village, NYC
2005 Café Martinique, Atlantis Hotel, Nassau, Bahamas
2009 Jean-Georges Steakhouse, Aria Resort and Casino Las Vegas
2010 The Mark, The Mark Hotel, NYC
2010, May/June, ABC Kitchen
2011, On the Rocks, Eden Rock, St. Barts
2011, The Sand Bar, Eden Rock, St. Barts
2011 December, Simply Chicken in NYC at MSG
2012 July, Mercato, Shanghai
2013 May, ABC Cocina, NYC
2014 January, The Inn at Pound Ridge, Westchester, New York
2014 March, JG Tokyo, Japan
2014 December, Matador Room at Ian Schrager's Miami Beach EDITION Hotel Miami
2015, Seared, Los Cabos, Mexico
2015, Suviche, Los Cabos, Mexico
2015 January, Market, EDITION Hotel Miami
2015 January, Tropicale, EDITION Hotel Miami
2015 June, Jean-Georges Kitchen, Dubai
2016 May, Mercato, Hong Kong
2016 May, Le Dock, Fire Island, NY
2016 June, Jean-Georges at Topping Rose House Bridgehampton, NY
2017 February, abcV
2017 March, The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar, Singapore
2017 May, Tangará Jean-Georges São Paulo, Brazil
2017 June, Jean-Georges Beverly Hills, Waldorf Astoria Hotel
2017 June, The Rooftop by JG Waldorf Astoria Hotel
2017 June, Public Kitchen, Public Hotel, NYC
2017 June, Louis, Public Hotel, NYC Lower East Side
2017 August, Jean-Georges at the Connaught, London