Lunch with Two Exec Chefs at Jean Georges

The most unimaginable thing happened to me for on Thursday: eating lunch with two executive chefs at Jean Georges.

Just to give you the gist on how this event to ever occur, Marc Collins of Circa 1886 in Charleston, SC, emailed me for a bunch of recommendations to eat out around Manhattan since he’s cooking at the James Beard Foundation for the Tastes of Charleston event. We emailed each other for a good number of times and in the end, he asked me to join him for lunch at JG with his best friend, Kyle Ketchum of the Spiced Pear in Newport, RI. When I got this invitation I was thinking, “Huh?! Me, an insignificant food blogger having lunch with executive chefs? Have they gone mad?!” No, I don’t think they’re crazy; only me. (I should clarify this now that I paid my own lunch).

We’ve met outside at Jean Georges and went in to check our stuff. We waited several minutes at the desk for our table to be ready. During our wait, we chatted about their dinner at Momofuku Ssäm and a briefly about myself.

When our table was ready and walked through Nougatine, the casual portion of JG, we all saw Jean Georges himself in the kitchen. This particular moment was poignant since anyone who have ever heard of Jean Georges, he has sixteen restaurants internationally. Obviously, it’s a rare sight to see him in the kitchen. When all three of us got seated, Marc and Kyle started to debate whether or not they should ask for a tour of the kitchen. But the subject got dropped once our waitress started to ask what we like to order.

The main dining room at Jean Georges
The dining room

Winter Lunch Menu
The Winter Menu

Butters

Bread's being served Sourdough bread
Bread’s being served & A slice of sourdough

After we ordered, we’re served with the usual bread and butter. The sourdough bread was notably sour. What Kyle had noted was that the butter was slightly tart as well.

While we waited for our first course, we talked about more in depth about where they ate in Manhattan. What struck me the most was when they told me they went to Eleven Madison Park twice. As in back-to-back days for dinner and lunch. That’s how much they love that place. The comment they made about EMP was that “their food tastes as good as it looks [on their website and in person].”

Then our amuse bouche has arrived.

The Amuse Bouche
Shiitake mushroom, up close Salmon Belly from the amuse bouche
The Amuse Bouche with a few close up shots

The shot glass is filled with artichoke soup with cranberry foam. This soup was very good: the mild artichoke flavor, warm, smooth and creamy with a touch of tart and lightness from the cranberries. Somehow from the amuse bouches I’ve eaten here, their soup have been pretty spectacular.

The shiitake mushroom was meaty, potent, and earthy contrasted with the acidic bite of the gelée. The crunchiness is from the thin toasted rye bread which gives it some substance to the chew. It’s wonderful.

The fresh, silky salmon belly was flavored with a splash of chili vinaigrette, giving it a tart, spicy kick. The most notable part was eating it with the herb (I don’t know its name) that topped this salmon – it was bracing with a sharp herbal flavor. It’s good but not as great as the other amuses.

Moving on to our first courses:

Foie Gras Brûlée, Dried Sour Cherries, Candied Pistachios and White Port Gelée
The Foie Gras Brûlée

The foie gras brûlée was Kyle’s first course. Since we all ordered our own foie, I didn’t taste his only take a photo of it. I’ll explain this dish when you get to mine.

Sea Scallops, Caramelized Cauliflower, Caper-Raisin Emulsion
Sea Scallops, Caramelized Cauliflower, Caper-Raisin Emulsion

The sea scallops were Marc’s. The sea scallop was seared perfectly. A thin, slightly crisp crust meets the sweet, meaty scallop with an extra punch of sweetness and crunch with the cauliflower. The capers was quite potent on the sauce, as both chefs have noted.

Bluefin Tuna Ribbons, Avocado, Spicy Radish, Ginger Marinade
Bluefin Tuna Ribbons, Avocado, Spicy Radish, Ginger Marinade

My tuna dish attracted a bit of attention from the chefs was due to its presentation: thick strands of tuna, twirled and piled like it was spaghetti. It just boggled their minds how the kitchen actually pull it off. In terms of taste, this was a winner. The tuna was fresh and meaty, flavored with a potent ginger marinade. The avocado almost made me think I was eating wasabi since it absorbed the marinade and the chili-flecked radishes brought crunchiness to the party. We all liked this dish the most in this round.

Pouring in the consommé; Halibut steamed with Honshimeji Mushrooms and Lemongrass Consommé
Pouring the consommé

Halibut steamed with Honshimeji Mushrooms and Lemongrass Consommé Side view of Halibut steamed with Honshimeji Mushrooms and Lemongrass Consommé

Kyle’s halibut steamed with honshimeji mushrooms and lemon grass consommé was very bright and citrusy. His main reason to order this dish was to try the consommé, which I thought was bland compared to the fish. The halibut was meaty, moist, and intensely bright from all that lemon and other citrus fruits’ zest embedded with the delicately earthy mushrooms.

Marc’s second course was the foie gras. Still looks as great as Kyle’s…but I’m still not going to talk about it until we get to mine.

Finally, our last savory course.

Parmesan Crusted Confit Leg of Chicken, Salsify, Basil and Lemon Butter
Parmesan Crusted Confit Leg of Chicken, Salsify, Basil and Lemon Butter

Marc’s parmesan crusted confit leg of chicken was tender and moist with a crisp top. The salsify was sweet (in a savory, vegetal way), tart and tender. It’s a good chicken dish but I’m not reaching some kind of epiphany. Since Marc and Kyle are chefs, they’ve actually tried to figure out how did the kitchen pull out a dish like this (e.g. discussing cooking techniques, etc.). Interesting to listen. From what I can remember, they said that confitting the chicken saved it from drying it out when it’s pressed flat and getting that crunchy exterior.

Tangy Glazed Short Ribs, Crunchy Grits and Herb Salad
Tangy Glazed Short Ribs, Crunchy Grits and Herb Salad

Kyle’s short rib was hearty, a bit sweet, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture, and generously portioned. The crunchy grits was the item that looked similar to an egg roll. What he said that it’s too sweet to be savory that he would daresay that he’s eating dessert. This dish tided him over to a food coma. Strangely, what Marc told me was when they ate at Per Se the other night (and ate about fourteen courses), Marc was dying halfway their dinner, while Kyle actually was doing fine and kept on going. But Kyle did admitted to me later that red meat makes him sleepy.

And here’s what you’ve been waiting for:

Close up of the foie
Foie Gras Brûlée, Dried Sour Cherries, Candied Pistachios and White Port Gelée

The foie gras brûlée topped with dried sour cherries, candied pistachios and sitting on a bed of white port gelée. I would say that this would be almost perfection on a plate. Almost. The smooth, luscious foie gras meets the sweet, crunchy roasted pistachios. The tart, slightly chewy, dried cherries with a touch of toasted bread that’s under the foie. All of that is hit with a punch of acidity from the gelée to lighten the dense flavor of the foie. If this was served warm (as both chefs have mentioned) it would take this dish to another level – to the most divine foie dish. We can almost taste it.

Crashing down from our food elations, we sat out a bit and talked about our lunch a bit before the waiter gave us the dessert menu.

Dessert Menu
Dessert menu

Kyle was still in his food coma, yawning every now and then, not really wanting to eat another bite of food. But he was intrigued by the flavors and the elements in several desserts. For now, he didn’t order any dessert. Marc and I have chosen our own desserts.

Marc’s dessert, “Winter,” was good. The gingerbread was nicely spiced, not too sweet and the pumpkin mousse was light with some substance from not being too airy and its flavors. I haven’t tried the crisp but generally, I wasn’t too amazed with this dessert. The pomegranate sorbet was suprisingly subtle. I was expecting an intense tart pomegranate flavor but it’s very subdued. But it was very smooth, almost creamy like an ice cream.

Pomegranate Sorbet with Fresh Pomegranate Seeds
Pomegranate Sorbet

Side view of Spiced Pumpkin Mousse, Gingerbread Sponge, Crisp Cranberry Spiced Pumpkin Mousse, Gingerbread Sponge, Crisp Cranberry
Multiple views of the Gingerbread Sponge

I had the “Citrus” dessert. What attracted me to this dessert was the use of jicama. The jicama noodles actually reminded me of cellophane noodles texturally for being slightly chewy and color-wise (or lack of). It’s intensely flavored with the citrusy flavors of the kaffir lime, tangerine and limoncello gratinee. The chocolate poppy seed cake was a bit dry since it’s so tiny and the Meyer lemon curd that topped that cake was a bit too stiff for my liking. The halva powder was an interesting crunchy component.


“Citrus” dessert

Plopping on some granite Chocolate Poppy Seed Cake, Meyer Lemon Curd, Halva Powder from the
Plopping some granitee & Chocolate Poppy Seed Cake

After seeing our desserts, Kyle changed his mind and ordered the “Apple” dessert. He said that he’s ordering it for the sake of seeing it. His dessert was a bit unbalanced. The apple confit, pine nut sponge, and smoked raisin was way too smoky – most prominently from the brûléed top, rendering the apples to taste bland. The tamarind ice cream was creamy and richly spiced. I haven’t tasted the Granny-Smith fennel sorbet but from their reactions, it seemed to be a bit mixed.

Apple Confit, Pine Nut Sponge, Smoked Raisin, Tamarind Ice Cream
“Apple” Dessert and the Apple Confit, Pine Nut Sponge

Then the usual way for Jean Georges to end the meal in style, the petit fours with the usual ceremonial marshmallow cutting, the plate of microscopic macarons and the tray of chocolates.

He's cutting up the marshmallows
Ceremonial cutting of marshmallows

Plate of Marshmallows
Plate of marshmallows

Silver tray of chocolates
Chocolates!

The micro macarons The microscopic macaron
The micro macarons

The marshmallows are soft but I don’t really care for them that much. Of the three flavors (cinnamon, Meyer lemon and vanilla) offered, cinnamon was the best. The chocolates were very delicious – dark chocolate, around 65% cocoa content filled with various fillings. From what I can remembered that was served was chamomile, cappuccino, Bergamot, chai, and others. I was too stuffed to go beyond two bonbons. And the macarons (poppy seed, vanilla, and chocolate), as much as they are adorable, are still dry and chewy.

It was a very good lunch (and long since it was a two-hour lunch) nevertheless. Great service, delicious food (some better than others), and the company was great as well.

What topped this lunch was the fact that Marc and Kyle really thought about going to the kitchen and take a look at it since it was 4 PM. We slowly walked toward the back, saw Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten talking to one of his chefs and admire the tiny kitchen. He saw us standing a few feet away him, managed to step out of the kitchen, gave us a firm handshake and asked a few questions, mainly to Marc and Kyle. I have nothing to say since I was celebrity chef-struck that I’m speechless except saying “Hi,” “Thank you,” and “Bye.”

The kitchen in the back of Nougatine Midsection of the kitchen
The kitchen

Jean Georges is actually here...
He’s here!

Once we got our coats and bags from the coat check, we bid farewell to each other as Kyle has to go back to Rhode Island and Marc’s leaving the city several hours later. It’s been one heck of an afternoon that I’ll never regret.

If you want to see the slideshow of the entire lunch, click here.

Address:
Jean Georges

1 Central Park W
New York, NY 10023



There are 12 comments

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  1. aya

    OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    alright, that was my initial reaction to the title of this post.
    Can I tell you how much I appreciate Jean George Vonrichten for elevating chinese cuisine to haute cusine in America? Americans have so little appreciation for China’s culinary history (arguably one of the greatest in the world, althoug I’m obviously biased), and think chinese food is about *beef and brocolli* or god forbi crab rangoon. While J. G. V isn’t exactly all about the great traditiona dishes of China, at least he can get people interested enough to look beyond their local takeout joint. I kind of see that happening already, just not enough yet for me.

    okay, enough rambling, back to readin’ :D

  2. thewanderingeater

    Seamonkey: Really?! I had no idea…

    Peko: Yes…it’s definitely a work of art! A delicious one, too! :)

    Aya: Hahaha! That’s the same reaction when I got the invite.

    Commenting on your comment in a concise fashion, yes, I do give him some credit to focus on Asian cuisine (Thai and Chinese).

  3. wendy

    What an exciting experience Tina. I am so happy for you. or jealous, or happy, or jealous…I have only been to JG once and I had the foie dish you had. I remember liking it but the richness made me sick after a few bites so I had to pass the rest to my eager boyfriend. My one observation about the desserts there is that they dont taste as good as they look. The flavor combination and presentation is intriguing but the taste is disappointing. Except for the signature molten chocolate cake, which was divine. I think we had the citrus and chocolate dessert.

  4. thewanderingeater

    roze: Yes, I agree that I’m lucky to shake hands with a culinary god. I’m still in shock…

    Thanks!

    Danny: It was an exquisite meal! I can’t believe chefs actually read my blog!

    Wendy: Well, my emotions were swinging from confusion to happiness. Any foie gras of sort is a decadent dish that’s why it’s generally a small portion in comparison to what I had at WD-50 last time.

    In terms with desserts, what I had when I ate there last time with a friend of mine, the desserts were pretty darn amazing. I guess it’s a hit-or-miss in terms with the seasons or something.

  5. Monica Lu

    I had the tuna sashimi dish as well when I went to JG and, tww years later, it remains one of the TOP food memories of all time. If I think hard enough I can still taste it….mmmmm.


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