Five minutes with… Jean-Georges Vongerichten

Brummell catches up with legendary chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten in London on opening the first abc restaurant outside New York

Food and Drink 30 Apr 2024

Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the abc kitchens at The Emory in London

Brummell catches up with chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the new abc kitchens in London

Can you tell us about the concept behind abc kitchens? 

The concept for abc kitchens started 14 years ago in New York City – it was the first in our group of restaurants to offer farm-to-table dining. It started within a store called abc carpet and home, which sells furniture new and old. We did a restaurant there because we were half a block from Union Square Green Market and it just felt right to do farm-to-table dining. The market runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, selling mostly produce, with a few fishermen but the majority is fruit and vegetables. In the beginning, we wanted to call it Love because of our love of food. But because of the address, everybody knows abc carpet and home so we called it abc kitchens and the rest is history. We really wanted to do something green and now it’s the only 100 per cent green restaurant in New York. We even have a compost in the kitchen. The concept was simple: best-in-class product, locally sourced.  

The second one was abc cocina, which was right next door. This is on 19th Street, on Park Avenue South. We did a Spanish version of it, inspired by Spain and South America. We went to Mexico, Brazil, Peru and was inspired by this part of the world but with the same ethos. The flavours were chilli, chicken and rice – arroz con pollo – all kinds of things. That was 10 years ago. Seven years ago, by popular demand, we opened a vegan/vegetarian restaurant, abcV. Now, in London, this is the first time we are combining the three restaurants – I call it the abc trilogy.  

The interior of abc kitchens at The Emory in London
The bright and airy interior of abc kitchens brings a relaxed and convivial dining experience

How would you describe the Jean-Georges Vongerichten philosophy towards food?  

When I started in 1973, there was haute cuisine in a way. It went from everything on a platter to everything on a plate. A focus on presentation with 20 ingredients on a plate – it was all very complicated and a superfluous way of getting the essence of what the ingredient is. Today, you’ve got your spear of asparagus, a squeeze of lemon, some olive oil and some seasoning – et voilà, which is hard because the product has to be impeccable… and that’s what it’s about: sourcing the best. People want to know where this carrot is growing, what soil, where is it coming from and about the traceability. 


Do you have any favourites on the menu in London? 

Every day we are getting in new products. There are some snacks: the spring pea guacamole is a favourite, as is the quesadilla and the local crab. We got some scallops in today, as well as some white asparagus, which we are doing in a sunchoke (artichoke) emulsion. It’s magic. I’d say 50 to 60 per cent of the dishes are inspired by what we have in New York but a lot of things are informed by the local area and what’s available.  

A fresh prawn dish at abc kitchens at The Emory in London
Jean-Georges Vongerichten places an emphasis on seasonal and locally sourced produce

What do you cook at home?  

At home nobody gets an empty plate. That’s the way I like to eat. I think abc is a part of that a little bit, a kind of sharing concept. I don’t want a big pile of something, I like to pick and try lots of different things, experience everything. I feel like people want to eat like this, a little bit of this, a little bit of that… 

What do you want your legacy to be? 

In terms of the food world, I want to be remembered for flavour combinations and creativity. Restaurants should be a happy place and something timeless. My first restaurant in New York was JoJo, which opened in 1991 and is still busy. It’s crazy. It’s still relevant. And consistency is important; people want a sure thing. To be as creative as you can but in the end, it must taste good, be the right price and have the right ambience. It’s a combination.  

abc kitchens by Jean-Georges Vongerichten at The Emory;