Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Leads One of Dubai’s Best Restaurants
If there’s anyone who knows what it takes to be successful in the kitchen, it’s world-renowned Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The French chef behind a global empire of Michelin-starred restaurants chose Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach as the home for his first signature outpost in the Middle East – Jean-Georges Kitchen – in the Restaurant Village.
What do you think about the dining scene in Dubai?
When I checked out Dubai I found that people really go out, at every lunch, every dinner. It’s a city full of young and energetic people, and the food scene reflects this.
What does Jean Georges Kitchen add to the local dining landscape?
I wanted to bring the flavours of New York to Dubai. I feel they are very similar cities in many respects. They are both very multicultural. You need to have flavour from everywhere for people from everywhere. That is what I bring to Dubai.
In the beginning it was only about bringing a fine dining concept to Dubai, but I thought that the days of going to a temple are over; people like more relaxed dining. We have the same set-up in New York at Jean-Georges – we have Nougatine at Jean-Georges, which has a kitchen, terrace and bar at the front where you can relax before going into the formal dining area. And you can always still hear and see a bit of a buzz going on next door.
You come from a classical French background but have spent a fair amount of time working in Asia. What has Asia added to your style of cooking?
What I have brought from my experiences in Asia are the spices and herbs. For instance, the menu here features flavours from around the world. We have foie gras with ginger and mango – so you have a very classic French ingredient, but the sharpness and freshness of the ginger and mango cuts through the richness of the foie gras. We have lychee with black olives – a contrast of sweet and briny flavours. I believe the last bite of a dish has to be as exciting as the first. It is that combination of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours from Asia that makes every dish pop.
How big a role does travelling play in your cuisine?
My inspiration is travelling. I always try to bring back some local flavours. For instance, the last time I came to Dubai I fell in love with za’atar [a dried herb mix predominantly made of thyme]. I’ve used it in a dish of pigeon squab with za’atar and some flatbreads with za’atar.
I believe the role of the chef is to come up with new flavours. You don’t get different fish coming out of the ocean every morning, but if you add different flavours, different combinations … you can do different things. Travelling is important.
When you arrive in a city, the best place to head to when you drop off your luggage is the local market. You get to see how people buy their food, what they buy, how they use different ingredients. In Asia particularly, the best food is found at the street markets.
What do you think is the most important quality to be successful in the restaurant business?
The most important quality to be a successful chef is passion. You are working 15 to 16 hours every day. You work when everyone else is having fun, so you cannot survive in this business without passion. Second, you need to be dedicated to pleasing your customer. And third, you need to know how to buy your produce – where to shop, what ingredients are in season. Today, traceability and provenance of ingredients are so important.
What do you think is the biggest mistake chefs make in this business?
Sometimes chefs don’t eat their own food. You need to eat your dish from A to Z. That’s the only way to tell if there’s something wrong or something missing. Many chefs just taste their food. You need to sit down and eat your dishes from start to finish.
What’s the one element a patron at a Jean-Georges restaurant would find, no matter which restaurant they are visiting, anywhere in the world?
I always put a little heat into every dish. There’s always a little bit of black pepper, cayenne or serrano chillies. I think a hint of heat makes a dish sing.
Text by Radhina Almeida Coutinho