Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is a French chef with a love for Asian flavours and ingredients. So it’s no surprise that if you asked him which cuisine he is currently fascinated with, his answer is Singapore.
”Singapore food is number one to me right now,” declares the 60-year-old chef, who was born in Alsace, France but is currently based in New York. ”(Here) you have the best Thai, the best Chinese, the best Indonesian, Indian, Malay, plus your own cuisine. Also it’s amazing that you can get produce here from anywhere around the world – Japan, Europe, Australia, so it’s a great city to cook in.”
Since he opened his restaurant The Dempsey Cookhouse and Bar earlier this year, he has been making a few trips here to update the menu, including a recent visit where he cooked at the Singapore F1 Paddock Club 2017.
”I enjoy coming to Singapore, because I discover new dishes each time, and I learn new things. I may bring new dishes (to the restaurant), but I also go back with a dozen new ideas.”
Chef Vongerichten, 60, started cooking when he was 16 years old, and now runs a number of award-winning restaurants including his eponymous three-Michelin-starred flagship in New York at the Trump International Hotel and Tower. In 1980, he fell in love with Asian food while on a trip to Thailand, seduced by ingredients such as ginger and chilli. The latter eventually became an ingredient he almost obsessively adds to almost every dish.
”I put chilli everywhere,” he whispers excitedly. ”I’m very discreet about it. In New York as well. Chilli is the number one natural anti-inflammatory, so it’s good to eat spicy food. In salad dressings, I blend mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, rapeseed oil, and a little bit of green chilli. You don’t really taste it, but it’s there. I feel it gives more flavour to a dish. Pepper is nice for a bit of fragrance, but it disappears in a dressing. Chilli lingers.”
It’s not just chilli that makes this veteran chef’s eyes light up. His job, for one, is still something he loves doing. Despite having a head chef stationed at every one of his restaurants, he still goes into the kitchen to cook for about five to six hours a day, he says. ”I call it my therapy. I enjoy cooking especially during a busy service. Everybody does their job – my accountant does the accounting – and my job is to cook and come up with new dishes and ideas,” he says.
He feels that the world has gotten much smaller, thanks to the Internet, and that has changed the way young chefs are starting out. He says: ”You can literally learn hundreds of recipes online, and open a restaurant without creating anything original. I worked with a three-Michelin-starred chef when I was an apprentice, and got my ideas from him. But today, chefs have new mentors. Instagram is a new mentor. Google is a new mentor. We’re living in a different world. It’s very exciting. I wish I had all this when I was 18.”
Story first appeared on The Business Times.
HEADER PHOTO JEAN-GEORGES VONGERICHTEN