Jean-Georges Vongerichten Previews the Mark, Delays ABC Kitchen

Jean-Georges Vongerichten premiered his new restaurant at the Mark Hotel last night for a Chanel dinner in honor of Vanessa Paradis for Rouge Coco. The chef served 140 people a meal including pumpkin ravioli, grilled black sea bass, and Parmesan-crusted organic chicken. He spoke to Jada Yuan about the lure of hotel restaurants, the timeline for his upcoming ABC Kitchen restaurant, and why locavores are akin to time travelers.

When is the Mark restaurant opening?
Probably a couple weeks from now. The restaurant was finished yesterday. They gave me the key yesterday. We threw a party tonight. So it’s been pretty intense, serving 140 people the first night. Now we have to test the food, work out all the kinks, make sure the flavors are right, etcetera, etcetera. We have friends and family the 18th, 19th, 20th, then hopefully a party for the industry.

How is this different from your other restaurants?
Every restaurant is different. Already the ambiance is totally different. We are on the Upper East Side, so we try to do something for everybody. We have some pizzas on the menu, some pastas; we have a raw bar with Champagne and oysters. My flavors, the combinations are mine, but it’ll be different. We’re open breakfast, lunch, and dinner because of the hotel. We’ll pamper the guests upstairs, pamper the neighborhood, pamper anyone who comes in. We’ll pamper everybody!

What’s the appeal of opening in a hotel?
Hotels are the ultimate pampering. When you’re in a restaurant, you’re there for two or three hours. When you’re in a hotel, you stay overnight, a couple days. You get to take care of people up in their room, for breakfast. For me, the hotel is the ultimate pampering.

What are you most excited about on the menu?
I’m excited about all the pasta, because it’s different. We did a pasta with buckwheat. Not like a soba, but a buckwheat fettuccine. We added some clams, some shrimps, some sea urchins. It’s almost like a healthy pasta, but not. It’s almost like a vongole, with lots of seafood, but we added buckwheat.

How hands-on are you?
Every single dish. For me, you know, opening up a restaurant, I have to be here for three months and watch over every single dish, and then I give it to other people to repeat it, and then I watch the consistency.

And then you take a vacation?
No, no, no. There’s no vacation. Because there’s always a better restaurant opening next door. Usually it takes about six months to put a restaurant together. In the beginning, everyone has to see and everyone has an opinion, but after three months you can settle in and know what the food is going to be. Here it is very light. Very light.

How do you train the staff?
Tomorrow, half the staff sits down and the other half is cooking and serving for them, and then they switch. So we are trying amongst us until we have the right flavor down, you know, the right movement. Because, you know, when the restaurant actually opens, we will have 150 people, so we need to coordinate. Everybody is very receptive. They want to learn, they want to see, they want to taste — because they are the ambassadors of the food. They are the ones talking to the customers about it, doing the sale.

In the kitchen we are working on the flavors, the combinations. On our menu, altogether, we have about 60 new dishes. We’re only going use about 30, half of it. So we’re going to take the best ones and the others, use them for next time, for next season. But it’s tough to open in the wintertime. You have to use root vegetables. The palettes of flavor are kind of limited. In the spring you have asparagus, rhubarb, those things. Opening in February is kind of challenging, but I like it. I love a challenge.

What’s going on with ABC Kitchen?
We pushed it back another month. This one was late, the other one was early. I was like, “Guys, there’s only one me!” We’re definitely going to open up there soon.

How will you know when you’re ready to open ABC Kitchen?
We’re training a whole team of waiters, the chef, the whole team in the kitchen. But I want to focus on this one for the next two weeks and get it off the ground, and then we’ll look to that. Secretly, I want to push ABC until I can get asparagus on the menu, and ramps. I want it to be in springtime so we can get ramps and morels, rhubarb. You have to follow the seasons. But it’s so great, even the dishwasher is green, and the soap we are using there, the silverware — we bought everything on eBay. Everything is recycled. The plates were made in Connecticut by a lady there. Everything is done by local artists. We bought nothing new.

Now you have to make all your other restaurants that way.
We are. A little bit more local every day. It’s amazing, we found somebody making soy sauce in New York State, homemade soy sauce. A lot of people are approaching us, contacting us: “Oh, I do this. I do that.” It’s amazing. Even the liquor is local. We have whiskey and vodka from the Hudson Valley. Local veal. There’s so much going on right now. All these artisans. It’s amazing. It’s like we’re going back in time a little.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten Previews the Mark, Delays ABC Kitchen