Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges
By Jean-Georges Vongerichten
A pioneer of Asian-fusion cuisine, Jean-Georges Vongerichten has finally delivered a volume that spans the range of his most popular New York restaurants: the Thai-focused Vong, the now-closed Chinese-themed 66 and his paean to pan-Asian street food, Spice Market. In Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges, the superstar chef takes a journey through the markets of Asia, from India and Malaysia to Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore. And he has included sumptuous travel photos to prove it. Bursting with color, the shots of exotic produce, street vendors, fresh seafood, and prepared dishes transport the reader to the lands that cultivated Jean-Georges’ passion for blending Eastern ingredients with French techniques.
The chef opens his pantry to reveal staples of the Asian-fusion kitchen like curry paste, crystallized tamarind candy, lime leaves, Shaoxing wine, star anise and green papayas. Such flavorful accompaniments, when combined with basics like meat, fish, poultry and rice, yield a voyage for the palate to hot, sour, salty, sweet and bitter destinations. Crafting such layered, complex dishes is both time and labor intensive; these are not quick-cook Asian meals. But Jean-Georges’ experience inspires trust that the efforts will be well worth it. The appetizers chapter proves to be the most extensive, with recipes for street food favorites like dumplings, samosas, spring rolls and satay. But in successive chapters he departs from these standards to introduce novel twists on consummate dishes from each country. His charred lamb salad is a tasty take on Thai beef salad. Grilled chicken gets freshened up with kumquat-lemongrass dressing. Ginger fried rice turns out to be a spicy variation on the Chinese staple. Shrimp is paired surprisingly with roasted butternut squash, while beef brisket takes a Jewish-Alsatian-Chinese turn with caramelized onion crust and chile. Desserts like coconut panna cotta with exotic fruit salad and passion fruit soufflé exploit the bright, exotic produce of Jean-Georges’ travelogue. With suggestions for where to procure specialty Asian ingredients, the book offers the opportunity to go cruisin’ for fusion with the master as your guide.
Reviewed by Rachel Levin
(Updated: 10/30/08 SB)