There are plenty of intriguingly challenging chef's cookbooks out there, but this one is different: It's actually possible to cook from Jean-Georges: Cooking at Home With a Four-Star Chef and turn out impressive meals, whether for everyday dining or elegant entertaining, without spending the entire day in the kitchen. Star chef Vongerichtenthe chef behind some of New York City's finest restaurants (Jo Jo, Vong, Jean Georges, and now the Mercer Kitchen)says that even in his restaurants, he's trying to get closer and closer to the kind of last-minute dishes you'd cook at home, with fewer complicated preparations. And though his food is inherently simple, much of the credit for the book's ease of use must go to its coauthor, Mark Bittman, The New York Times's "Minimalist" columnist, who, Vongerichten says, "brought his computer into the kitchen and just cooked with us."
A Cooking Class with Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the chef behind some of New York City's finest restaurants (JoJo, Vong, Jean Georges, and now the Mercer Kitchennot to mention restaurants in London and Hong Kong), is considered by many to be the finest chef cooking in town. It's no surprise that his food is perfectly elegant and incredibly flavorful; what is a surprise is that so many of his recipes are so startlingly simple. Witness the fact that in the course of a two-and-a-half-hour cooking class, Vongerichten was able to demonstrate seven recipes, some from his restaurant and some from his book, from start to finish.
It's clear from the first taste that he has two secrets: one, impeccable ingredients, and two, meticulous attention to contrast. In each dish, Vongerichten plays elements of temperature, texture, flavor, and even color off of one another in such a way that even a dish with three ingredients can seem fascinatingly complex. He won over the packed audience at De Gustibus at Macy's, not only with his spectacular food, but with his quiet charm and self-effacing demeanor.
About Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Jean-Georges: Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef
In this age of star chefs, Jean-Georges Vongerichten shines among the brightest. His restaurants are legendary, and his influence on the world of haute cuisine has been marked: He was one of the first chefs to successfully meld Asian flavors with traditional French cooking and move away from heavy cream and butter sauces to light vinaigrettes, vegetable juices, fruit essences, and broths. (He says with a laugh that his brothers have told him that his Alsatian mother, who ate in each of his restaurants on a recent New York visit, doesn't like any of his foodnot traditional enough.) With his new book, Jean-Georges, Vongerichten masterfully adapts the four-star cuisine of his restaurants to the home kitchen. There are plenty of intriguingly challenging chef's cookbooks out there, but this one is different: It's actually possible to cook from JEAN-GEORGES and turn out impressive meals, whether for everyday dining or elegant entertaining, without spending the entire day in the kitchen. Vongerichten says that even in his restaurant, he's trying to get closer and closer to the kind of last-minute cooking you'd do at home, with fewer complicated preparations. And though his food is inherently simple, much of the credit for the book's ease of use must go to its coauthor, Mark Bittman, the New York Times' "Minimalist" columnist, who, Vongerichten says, "brought his computer into the kitchen and just cooked with us."
About the Menu
We started with a garlic soup that was comfort food raised to entirely new heights: copious garlic cloves, first thinly sliced and lightly sautéed in olive oil, were poached until fragrant and sweet in rich chicken stock scented with thyme leaves. The soup was enriched at the last moment with eggs beaten with a bit of vinegar, yielding an unctuous, creamy texture and golden yellow color. "Great for when you have a cold," Vongerichten said, "and it tastes a lot better than a garlic pill." Perfectly sautéed, tiny frog legs were served alongsidethey tasted (of course) a bit like chicken, though with a much more delicate flavor and texture. Next came an aromatic, luxurious salad of meaty steamed chanterelles, dressed simply with grapeseed oil, lemon juice, and shallots and set atop a mixture of crunchy, fresh sprouts and delicate greens. With both courses, we drank a light-bodied, fresh California sparkling wine with appealing toasty, buttery flavors: Taittinger's Brut "La Française." We then moved on to a playful take on traditional tartare, made with oven-roasted, finely chopped beets instead of beef. Seasoned with mustardy mayonnaise, capers, chopped cornichons, Worcestershire sauce, shallots, and a drop of Tabasco, the sweet beets were wonderfully complemented by the pungent flavors. A single beautiful, sweet diver scallop, lightly sautéed, was served alongside.
Two fish dishes came next: the first a fillet of dorade (sea bream) dusted with ground coriander and fennel and poached in a fish fumet made with sweet wine, served with a simple green-tomato marmalade made by cooking down chopped green tomatoes with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juicea brilliant combination of sweet and sour flavors. The dorade was followed by thin scallops of arctic char (a freshwater fish with a color and texture similar to salmon) simply seasoned with lemon and olive oil and briefly baked, then layered with a crisp-fried lattice of shoestring potatoes and served with softly whipped cream flavored with fresh horseradish, celery root, and celery. A lovely Mersault, with creamy, earthy flavors and a mouth-filling texture, was served alongside.
The most elaborate dish of the evening followed: crisp-skinned duck breasts served atop a sweet-and-sour shallot confit made with ginger and honey, accompanied by a "brick"a strip of light phyllolike dough rolled into a triangle around a filling of diced duck-leg meat, mushrooms, chicken breast, duck prosciutto, and foie gras. The resulting dish was simply the essence of duck, and quite delicious. We drank a wonderful fruity pinot noir from Domaine Carneros with it. The dessert was a perfect example of Vongerichten simplicity, using only three ingredients: thin-sliced Granny Smith apples, layered with orange zest, on top of a layer of caramel in a charlotte mold. The tall tower of apples that results is refrigerated overnight so the juices seep out and the tower shrinks down, then baked for six hours in a low oven. The result is a mahogany-colored cake of pure apples, with an incredibly rich flavor. Served with a bit of crème fraîche and green-apple sorbet, it was a perfect fall dessert.
Tips from Jean-Georges Vongerichten
- Vongerichten recommends that delicate wild mushrooms like chanterelles be lightly steamed rather than sautéed, so they retain a meaty texture and all their moisture and flavor. "When you sauté them, you get a lot of water coming out and they just melt away to nothing," he says. "This way, they keep their water inside, with all their flavor."
- Knives are always among a chef's most important tools, and like many chefs, Vongerichten travels with his own set. He loves the ones he's now usinga set of elegantly shaped knives with an unusual perforated-metal handle made by a company called Global. "They're really nice because they're one piece," he says, "so there's no dirt collecting in cracks. They're very light to use. They're not inexpensive, but they work really well."
- For the most flavorful beets, Vongerichten says it's important to cook them with the skin on. He also recommends oven-roasting them for the most intense taste. "And after they are cooked," he says, "the skins slip right off."
- "You can never trust a fillet of fish," Vongerichten says. He recommends buying whole fish because it's much easier to judge their freshness, by looking at the brightness of the eyes, the color and moisture of the gills, and the texture of the skin. If you're not the master of the fillet knife that Vongerichten's "right-hand man," Daniel del Vecchio, proved to be while demonstrating the dorade recipe, most fishmongers will gladly fillet your choice for you.