Jean-Georges Vongerichten is a busy man.
So busy that when I took my seat in front of the kitchen at the freshly opened ABC Cocina on 19th and Park, I was caught off guard when I saw him hovering behind our banquette, head down, brow furrowed, obsessing over the delivery and detail of every dish. I marveled at the mastery he maintained, the commitment he had to the cause – I felt like a lowly infantryman, and General George S. Patton had just hopped into my trench to let me know that the situation was under control.
While inhaling the spring pea guacamole I kept peering over the divider, hoping to make eye contact with the man in white, hoping to give him a carefully rehearsed nod of approval; a single acknowledgement so that he would know that I “got” it, that I wasn’t just some average OpenTable denizen.
And then in walked Mimi Sheraton.
I had the pleasure of meeting the fearsome food critic a few weeks prior at a one-night-only re-creation of Andre Soltner’s Lutèce, the very same Soltner from whom Sheraton had stripped a star in the New York Times before I was born. Luckily for Soltner and so many other Michelin-Starred Cuisiniers, she’s no longer on active duty. These days you’ll largely find Mimi aging gracefully, enjoying life one forkfull at a time, only putting pen to paper for a glorious retrospective, peppered by the occasionally resplendent roundup. That being said, she can never – and more importantly will never – turn off her inner critic.
And that is why to this day, when Mimi Sheraton walks into his kitchen, Jean-Georges takes a big gulp.
“There is no one else like her in the world,” he explains as I shake his hand for what feels like the fifth minute. “Her knowledge knows no bounds, her glossary of flavors is ultimate. Even if she isn’t there to review your restaurant, you treat her opinion like gold.” But what could she possibly have to say about what had been thus far a stellar selection of tapas? “She walked over after dinner, explained that the meal was lovely, that her and her husband had a terrific time, but there was just one thing she would change.”
On the edge of my seat I begged him to tell me, which after a considered amount of cajoling he did with a grin. “So we have these warm Mexican chocolate vanilla fritters on the dessert menu, and they’re terrific, a dish I’m very proud of. She expressed her appreciation of the recipe, but told me it was missing one small ingredient. Orange zest, just a bit on top. So I quickly run back to the kitchen, whip up the dish, and I zest an orange over it.”
Jean-Georges raised his hands in the air, clutching the knowledge of Mimi’s orange zest revelation atop his restaurant empire. “It made the dish, and it made my day.”
38 East 19th Street
New York, NY 10003