Jean-Georges' culinary expertise may have launched him into the stratosphere—his name is recognized around the globe—but his beginnings are markedly humble.
Born and raised on the outskirts of Strasbourg in Alsace, France, food took center stage in his childhood. The Vongerichten home centered around the kitchen, and both his mother and grandmother would prepared lunch daily for the almost 50 employees in their family-owned business. "I would wake every morning to the most wonderful smells," reminisces Jean-Georges, "and I quickly became known as ‘The Palate’ to my family, tasting each sauce and dish, recommending salt or some more herbs." His love for food gave way to big dreams at the age of 16, when his parents brought him to the 3-star Michelin-rated Auberge de l’IIl for a birthday dinner. He wanted to be a chef—a decision transformed his life.
Jean-Georges began his training soon after in a work-study program at the Auberge de l'III as an apprentice to Chef Paul Haeberlin. He went on to work with some of Frances' top chefs, including Paul Bocuse and Louis Outhier at L’Oasis. With this impressive training, Jean-Georges landed a fantastic job at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a true-blue culinary superstar.
After tasting a bit of success as a chef, Jean-Georges decided to test his talent for business. From 1980 to 1985, he opened 10 restaurants around the world, including the Meridien Hotel in Singapore and the Mandarin Hotel in Hong-Kong. He spent a great deal of time in Asia, developing a passion for the exotic and aromatic flavors of the Far East. This is what inspired his menu at the wildly successful Vong, a culinary haven in Manhattan featuring Thai-French cuisine. While it is perhaps one of his most U.S. restaurants, it certainly wasn't his first.
Jean-Georges' arrived in the United States in 1985, opening the Lafayette restaurant in Boston. A year later he arrived in New York to take over the executive Chef position at Lafayette in the Drake Swissôtel, dazzling guests with his innovative interpretation of classic French cuisine and earning four stars from The New York Times. A fantastic resume-boos for a man only 29 years of age. The fire was kindled. In 1991 he took the first of many bold steps that have established him as a culinary trend setter when he traded his white table linen for paper. The charming bistro, JoJo, was born.
JoJo was the perfect medium for Jean-Georges' to introduced the world to a ‘vibrant and spare cuisine,’ whose intense flavors and satisfying textures he created by eschewing traditional meat stocks for vegetable juices and fruit essences, light broth and herbal vinaigrettes. JoJo was named Best New Restaurant of the Year, and earned three stars from The New York Times, in which Ruth Reichl said quite simply: "His food took my breath away."
His next venture, Vong, paid homage to his passion for the flavors of the East. Using over 150 different herbs and spices to create his unique take on Thai-inspired French cuisine, the menu wowed both critics and patrons, earning yet another three-star review from The New York Times for his "explosive flavorful food." According to Gourmet Magazine, "Vong is not the place to go for a conventional Thai meal; rather it is a beautifully realized fantasy by a French...chef of genius."
A year and a half later, Jean-Georges opened a second Vong in the Knightsbridge area of London, earning a three-star review and the 1996 vote for the London Evening Standard’s "Newcomer of the Year." In September 1997, he opened yet another Vong in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong, which Robb Report awarded "Best Restaurant in the World" award in 1998. A fourth and final Vong was launched in Chicago in 1999. All locations are wildly popular.
In March of 1997, Jean-Georges opened Jean-Georges Restaurant in the Trump International Hotel and Tower, earning a four star review from The New York Times less than three months after opening. It also won him the coveted "Chef of the Year Award" from John Mariani at Esquire magazine.
In July 1998, Jean-Georges launched The Mercer Kitchen in the stylish Mercer Hotel in Soho. This venture features an American-Provencal menu and ‘communal’ style tables in the open kitchen area. Soon after, Jean-Georges launched Prime Steakhouse in Steve Wynn’s Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
As if his successful career did not speak for itself, Jean-George was recognized by the James Beard Foundation in the "Best New Restaurant," "Outstanding Chef" and "Who's Who of Food & Beverage" categories in 1998. In 1999, the same foundation named his book, Jean-Georges: Cooking at Home with a Four Star Chef "Best Cookbook."
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