Last week Jean-Georges Vongerichten debuted his newest restaurant at the Connaught hotel in London. The menu, which brings some of the chef's most famous creations across the pond, includes dishes like caviar on toast, crispy salmon sushi, cotton candy, and even black truffle and fontina pizza (which tastes as good as it sounds and is perhaps the restaurant’s most-Instagrammed menu item).
The opening marks Vongerichten's return to London after a 15-year hiatus and the restaurant was already bustling just a few days in, with chef Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu fame ensconced in a corner booth. T&C sat down with the chef to ask about social media, Trump, and his biggest dining pet peeves.
The original Jean-Georges in New York has been open for twenty years. Who
We have had everyone from Bono to Obama and Trump. We have probably fed five presidents in 20 years.
Your restaurant in New York is in a Trump building. Does Trump eat there often?
We tell everyone that we are next to the Trump building [not in a Trump building] because we are. Trump comes in twice a year. The last time he came in he ordered meat, well-done. He's not a gourmet.
Crispy salmon sushi
What is the craziest thing you have ever seen happen at one of your restaurants?
Being in the restaurants is like being on stage, there’s always something going on. Every meal is different. One time a woman got naked in Jean-Georges, we have no idea why. She walked out like nothing happened, and she got into a cab. She left her clothes on the floor in the restaurant. Once a woman walked out on somebody who proposed to her. The woman left after the first course, but the man stayed anyway and finished his meal. We have had a couple dramas.
"One time a woman got naked in Jean-Georges, we have no idea why."
What would your death row meal be?
Probably food from somewhere in Asia. The last taste I would like to have would be Asian, for sure. Ginger, soy, sushi, pad thai. Something exotic from Thailand, Bali, or Japan. I could finish with four pieces of sushi and sake.
Are there any foods that you do not like?
I eat everything. But I don’t do zoo food.
What is zoo food?
Zoo food is zebra, snake, alligator, kangaroo. I call it zoo food.
The interior of Jean-Georges at The Connaught
What do you think is the appropriate tip to leave on a $100 bill in the U.S.?
It depends. If you had a good experience then $20 to $25. If it was a little shaky then maybe $18. But if the food was not good it was not the waiter’s fault, so even in that case, I would leave $18 to $20 because it is the waiter’s living.
Do you have any dining pet peeves?
When diners put salt on the food before they taste it. If they need more salt, pepper, or vinegar, we have it. The kitchen is full of condiments. But try the food first. I like salty things, and I don’t mind it if customers do, but just taste it first.
What is the proper protocol if you get a meal that you do not like?
In America, they send it back. They don’t care. In Europe, they probably won’t come back to the restaurant. I like it when people tell me that they do not like the food and ask for something else, and then we will change their order. I always tell my front-of-house staff that no one should leave angry or hungry.
What do you think about people taking pictures and Instagramming their meals at the table in your restaurants? Does it bother you?
I love it. I do it too. I prefer customers who text and take pictures to diners who speak loudly on their phones in the restaurant.
Do you think that social media will change dining as an experience for younger generations?
Absolutely. I think people want to know where they are going first. On social media, they can see a restaurant’s ambiance and the type of food. In the old days, you didn’t know where you were going. Now you can see the restaurant’s look, the setting, even the flowers. It is the way of the future. People say that 75 percent of Instagram is all food pictures. I don’t know if that is true, but it is good for our industry.
Everybody is a critic now. Instead of one person deciding if you are good or bad and giving you a star, now you have a whole public deciding if a restaurant is great. We have to be on our toes more, but it is good for business. I’m a big fan of social media—maybe a little too much! It is good to share what you create and what you do.
Is there anything that diners should always order at a restaurant?
Dessert. I am a big dessert person. It is the first time I am doing a four-meal restaurant. We have breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. It is the first time we are doing afternoon tea, and I really love it.
Did you enjoy creating the afternoon tea?
We have a great pastry chef who made some amazing creations. I love the scones and the sandwiches and we also did something really creative—we serve a small chocolate fondue with strawberries with the afternoon tea.
An illustration for the dessert menu, created for the restaurant by the French artist Jean Jullien
Do you adapt your menus based on the locations of your restaurants?
A little bit—it's mostly about the products and the culture. We call this restaurant "the best of" so we took dishes from ABC Kitchen, from the Mark, from JG, it’s a little potpourri but with English ingredients, like English beef and fish.
What are your favorite restaurants in London?
I would say my favorite is River Café—I’ve been going for twenty years. It’s simple and delicious. I like Nobu, I like them all, depending on the mood of the day. I think the variety in London is great, there is incredible Indian, incredible everything. In London, they import products from everywhere around the world. Like the lemongrass and the ginger. In New York, everything grows in Florida or California. So they are similar but they aren’t like the spices you get in London.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.