Above: Vongerichten with the day's catch, New York City

OW: You know, one of my other favorite people is Quincy Jones. I think of you as the Quincy Jones of food—as a food composer. Is that how you see yourself?

JGV: That's a compliment, thank you. I see myself as a creator.

OW: You're an artist first.

JGV: First is flavor.

OW: Of course.

JGV: The role of the chef is to create something personal, something that people understand and that they come back for.

OW: How do recipes come to you? Do you eat, sleep, breathe recipes?

JGV: I dream about food every night.

OW: If you dream up something in the morning, is it on the table by the evening?

JGV: A lot of the time, yes. I'll say to the chefs, "I found some sugar snap peas. Let's think up ten dishes." We try to think of what will turn this pea into something new. The ingredients are what they've always been. I tell my chefs, "There's no new fish coming out of the ocean." As far as meat goes, there's beef, pork, lamb. And for birds you have chicken, duck, quail, squab and game birds. But add licorice to that chicken and it becomes new. There are so many herbs and spices—the combinations are endless. It's about looking for new sensations, new flavors. Make it pop, make it sing.

OW: Who cooks at home?

JGV: I do, and my wife. She's half Korean; she loves Korean food. At the restaurant I do so much plating, but at home it's all family style.

OW: Do people ever invite you to dinner?

JGV: Absolutely.

OW: I'd be scared for you to come to dinner.

JGV: I'm scared when you come to dinner!

OW: Do you judge the food when you go to someone's house?

JGV: Sometimes they'll ask me what I think, and I have to...well, I might say something like, "Maybe you could add lemon juice," because I don't want to say, "It sucks." [Laughs]

OW: [Laughs] What are some of your proudest creations?

JGV: A simple sautéed shrimp in carrot juice. You have the carrot, which is earthy, and the shrimp, which is the ocean. And you mix them together. It's magic. I use the same spices you use in carrot cake—nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, a little lemon juice, a tiny bit of butter so it's a sauce, a little cayenne and salt on the shrimp, and when you eat it you feel the earth and the ocean together. That's the planet. That's us.


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