Mark Lapico lets all the steam out, just for us.Photo: Melissa Hom
Jean Georges isn’t a restaurant known for its attachment to experimental cuisine; if anything, J-G Vongerichten’s highly formal flagship is considered a bastion of old-school tablecloth dining. But Vongerichten has always been in the gastronomic vanguard, and he and chef de cuisine Mark Lapico are among the city’s most ardent admirers of the CVap oven, a controlled-humidity technology they use so much that there’s three of them in the kitchen.
First invented (and still used) as a way to keep Kentucky Fried Chicken fresh, the CVap has moved on to finer establishments. By cooking with moist heat at extremely low temperatures, the CVap can cook delicate fishes, beef tenderloins, and even custards in short periods without losing any moisture whatsoever — the hallmark of sous-vide cooking, but without all the hassle of bags and warm-water baths. “It’s so good,” Vongerichten tells us. “Like sous-vide, but without all the troubles. It’s so much better than the bag.”
Some kitchens use the ovens to keep meat at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, to be browned up on pickup. Not at Jean Georges, explains Lapico. “We only use it to cook from a raw state. For making something exactly the way we want it at the moment of service, we love it. We can actually make some things — fish, our goat-cheese custard — more perfectly than I think ever could have been possible with conventional equipment.” But efficiency does not always make for good aesthetics, Lapico laments. “It’s not a pretty machine. We wouldn’t have bought three of them for their looks.”