A few words with Jean Georges Vongerichten
I was lucky enough to have a few words with JGV himself the weekend he opened his 2 Dubai restaurants! We talked about vegetarian food in Dubai and New York, as well as ABCV, his upcoming vegetarian restaurant in NYC.
SM: How have your views on Dubai changed since opening the restaurant?
JGV: I have always known Dubai to be a cosmopolitan city with a melting pot of cultures. But after spending more time here, I realized just how much people go out here, it’s just like New York. What has pleasantly surprised me is the number of people that visit my restaurants in New York, particularly ABC Kitchen.
SM: I first visited your restaurant at Trump tower when I was a teenager about 15 years ago and I still remember loving the molten chocolate cake. There wasn’t much in terms of vegetarian dishes on the menu at that time but your staff went out of their way to provide vegetarian alternatives.
JGV: Yes we did have a few options then, but over the years there has been more and more and it just continues to grow.
I grew up in Alsace in a big family – it was 3 generations living under one roof. Protein was very expensive, and we only had fish once a week. So 70% of the time we were eating vegetables and salads. We ate things like cabbage, potatoes, and we also had a farm so we could grow vegetables and would eat whatever was in season. My mother always did the cooking then.
When I later started working on restaurants in New York, meat was always in excess. During the 80s and early 90s the restaurants would serve a big steak and literally just 2 string beans on the side. Over time I started adding more and more vegetables and vegetarian dishes to my menus. As you know, ABC Kitchen is proof of this as 60% of the dishes on the menu are vegetarian.
SM: Do you think of vegetarianism as a growing trend/niche?
Absolutely and that’s exactly why we are opening our first ever vegetarian restaurant. We have a lot of interest in this restaurant, and I think people are getting impatient, as we have already delayed our opening by almost 8 months now. We are taking our time as we want to get it right.
ABC Home has a lot of warehouses in Queens that we are transforming into farms for the winter time, where we grow our own herbs and vegetables using LED light. We have started testing it and it is working well!
Since everything is online now, there was no longer a need to stock so much in warehouses, so ABC home decided to hand the warehouses over to us!
Vegetarianism is definitely the future. Eating meat takes up much water, which is harmful for the environment. Your website is definitely in the right space.
(SM: I now have a big smile on my face )
SM: How much consideration did you give to the vegetarian palate when working on the menu for Dubai?
JGV: We definitely gave it a huge consideration, as we know that about 60% of the population of Dubai is Indian and probably half of them are vegetarian. In fact, we are still planning to add more vegetarian dishes.
SM: Has this thought process been different in other cities, for example Shanghai?
JGV: You’ll be surprised; there are a lot of vegetarian dishes at our Mercato restaurant in Shanghai. It’s an Italian restaurant, and we have a lot of dishes from ABC Kitchen on our menu there, which of course includes lots of vegetables.
SM: What is your favorite vegetarian dish on the Dubai menu?
JGV: We just added the tomato, mango avocado salad to the menu, which is delicious. Also the truffle pizza and the mushroom pizza with egg are really good.
SM: Are any of the vegetables and produce at the restaurant locally sourced?
At the moment almost everything is imported. We have beautiful organic produce coming in. Only carrots and radishes are sourced locally right now. When I was here last, I did visit a local farm, but at the moment it is closed as there is nothing growing – it’s too hot.
SM: The farm to table concept is an important part of some of your NYC restaurants, do you think a concept like this is possible in Dubai with the quality of locally sourced ingredients available in this region?
JGV: The trend at most Dubai restaurants is to use imported produce but I think that is going to change. When I arrived in NY in 1986 there was nothing other than apples and potatoes and now everything is available. And when it’s winter we end up getting a few things from California, etc. In the US, it’s always the season somewhere.
For Dubai, perhaps we can artificially create the climate for growing vegetables with the right soil, so I think things may change. There is always a way around it.
For example, for ABC Kitchen in NY, we supply our farmers with our own compost from the restaurant, which they use to grow our herbs and vegetables.
SM: What are some of your favorite vegetarian dishes in NYC?
JGV: I just love kale – I need to eat it every 2 days! So I love all our kale salads!
SM: If you had to take a vegetarian friend out to dinner in NYC, which existing JG restaurant would you take them to?
JGV: ABC Kitchen.
SM: Which non-JG restaurant would you take them to?
JGV: Semilla in Brooklyn or Hangawi in Manhattan.
SM: Can you tell us a little bit about ABCV, your upcoming vegetarian concept in New York? Is it going to be 100% vegetarian, or will it be a vegetable forward concept?
JGV: Yes, it is 100% vegetarian, so zero meat and fish on the menu. There will be a vegan section, a raw section and a vegetarian section. The menu will have different influences from around the world, which includes India, China and Japan. We will be open for breakfast as well, so we may have some eggs but nothing is 100% yet. I am currently working with 2 nutritionists; this is something I have never done before, so I am learning a lot from the process! (He laughs) I haven’t learned this much in 42 years - I feel like I am going back to School!
We will have a pretty revolutionary juice bar and just 75 seats – I will show it to you when you are in New York this summer. Hopefully we will open in September.
SM: I can’t wait to check it out! I just love the name ABCV – I believe it was previously going to be ABC Home Grown?
JGV: Yes, ABC Home Grown was just something we had considered as the walls in the restaurant are going to be made of growing wild herbs and greens. But we went with ABCV in the end.
Despite his global success, Chef Jean-Georges is actually quite a humble gentleman! I particularly love the fact that he has always considered a vegetarian palate and is a lover of vegetarian food himself! I cant wait to visit his newest vegetarian concept restaurant the next time I am in New York!
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