Taste Buds, Rejoice! – Jean-Georges Vongerichten

 The Tuna Tartare is great, but I think my favorite is the Hearts of Palm Salad—it tastes like Florida.

As famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten breaks into the Miami market with the opening of his posh new eatery, J&G Grill, at the equally posh St. Regis, we caught up with the haute chef de cuisine during this year’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival to chat expansions, his signature menu and some of his own personal favorite Miami hot spots. And what did we learn? Unsurprisingly, Jean-Georges is giving our taste buds yet another reason to celebrate.

You were on our cover a few years ago and we spoke about your appreciation of Miami. Tell us about some of your favorite Miami institutions.

I have been visiting Miami for years. I used to come to see Kerry Simon, who was the chef at The Raleigh, and eat at Versailles; and then there’s Joe’s Stone Crab. You can’t come here [to Miami] without having crabs. But from then to now, things have sure changed; just as they have in New York and all over, but even more so here because people are coming from the south, they’re coming from the north.

So did that cross-section of varying cultures influence the way that you curated the menu here at J&G Grill?

It did. But I also feel that it depends on what is available. There are so many more offerings now—the hearts of palm, the cheeses you can find. I feel like now I have the tools to create.

How did you begin your career in the culinary field?

I began my training in a work-study program at Auberge de I’Ill as an apprentice to Chef Paul Haeberlin, then went on to work under Paul Bocuse and Master Chef Louis Outhier at L’Oasis in southern France. I then traveled to Asia and continued my training at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, Le Meridien Hotel in Singapore and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong.

Talk to me about J&G Grill’s menu. This is what I call “The Best Of.” It’s really the best dishes from everywhere, from ABC Kitchen, Mercer Kitchen, etc. We used three to four dishes from each restaurant, and then we added some dishes that we only do at J&G Grill, like the Hearts of Palm and Crabcakes. The menu is half created for Miami and half of our best dishes from New York.

What’s your favorite dish at J&G Grill?

The Tuna Tartare is great, but I think my favorite is the Hearts of Palm Salad—it tastes like Florida. What’s your favorite place to eat really spicy food when you’re not eating your own cooking? There’s a terrific Mexican place on West 4th Street called Empellon Taqueria.

What’s your favorite drink?

These days I have grown fond of whiskey and bourbon, especially a Manhattan or Sazerac.

What’s your favorite pastime?

I love to spend my free time outdoors. In the winter, I love to ski. In the summer, I love to canoe and fish.