Famed New York City chef and restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten has traveled the world. But when he comes to Fort Wayne today as the celebrity attraction of this years Blessings in a Backpack fundraiser, hell be making his first trip to Indiana.
As for attendees of the sold-out $750-a-person gala at Sycamore Hills Golf Club, they can expect some down-home Hoosier food. The event helps pay for weekend meals for needy schoolchildren that they can take home in a backpack.
In a telephone interview last week, the Alsatian-born Vongerichten says that as a long-time believer in farm-to-fork food, he will use locally produced ingredients.
I thought it was a great opportunity to work with some of the local farmers. Ill be working with fresh corn and beef from a local farm, he says.
Weve tried to support farmers whenever we could.
While Vongerichten is known for his signature high-end restaurant, Jean-Georges at 1 Central Park West on the first floor of Trump International Hotel & Tower, the chef now has a hand in nearly a dozen dining venues in New York City alone.
His influence extends to nearly two dozen more restaurants in other U.S. cities and in Mexico, France, England, China, Canada, the Caribbean and the Middle East. Theres even an outpost in Bora Bora, French Polynesia.
Eating empire aside, Vongerichten he says hes more and more embracing the food simplicity he learned as a youth in France, where his grandmother and mother did much of the cooking and meals were eaten around a large family table.
Not many families eat that way these days, he says, recalling Alsatian cabbage as a dish from that time – cabbage and sautéed onion steamed with bacon and caraway seeds.
We ate lots of cabbage. Pork, sauerkraut, he adds. Things fresh from the market. Things like that.
The 56-year-old chefs 2011 cookbook, Home Cooking with Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes, traded on just that formula, with recipes for an Alsatian Sunday baked stew called Baeckoffe, as well as French toast made with brioche and roasted apples, fresh corn pudding cake and poached shrimp with a fresh peach cocktail sauce.
Vongerichtens ABC Kitchen in New York, also has freshness as its byword.
He calls the place, with its ambiance created from found, salvaged, reclaimed and recycled building materials, an everyday and more casual and less expensive dining option than his flagship.
The menu changes frequently to star fresh, seasonal organic produce.
Baby greens and herbs are grown in a rooftop garden and the staff seeks out hormone- and antibiotic-free, pasture-fed meats and dairy products.
At ABC, we serve organic pizzas. About 90 percent of the produce comes from local state farmers, Vongerichten says.
Ive been cooking now for 40 years, and as I get older, I want to live better, he says. And I think people today want to know where their food comes from. Its a bigger picture than just feeding yourself.
Vongerichten says he thinks more people are ready to eat a more plant-based diet, or at least return to eating the way he did when grew up – 70 percent grains, fruits and vegetables and 30 percent protein instead of the other way around.
Not one to let a new trend get ahead of him, he says hes working on a new venture thats vegetarian/vegan in concept.
I dont know where its going to be yet, he says. But its in my mind.