The other night at the miraculously curated abc home furnishings store, near New York’s Union Square, there was an unorthodox kind of culinary happening. Deepak and Jean-Georges, two men famous enough that we’re all on a first-name basis with them, created a four-star recipe for the launch of Vongerichten’s newest book, Home Cooking with Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes (Clarkson Potter.) The ingredients? Dozens of food world habitués (Bittman, Danny Meyer, the top magazine food editors), an ultra-chic sampling from both men’s fan clubs, fabulous farm-to-table hors d’oeuvres supplied by this year’s best new restaurant — none other than abckitchen (located on store’s first floor); generous bar-to-glass offerings of lemon-thyme vodka martinis and champagne; a film crew; a thoughtfully-decorated “organic tv studio,” candles, cushions, and the collegial collaboration of Deepak and JGV, all supervised by the formidable Paulette Cole — owner, visionary and astute aesthete of the abc collective.
Not unlike sitting in front of a couple of jazz musicians who riff and make the air between them meaningful, DC and JGV, made their own kind of music with humor and candor at the intersection of commerce and education. Commerce? We were there to buy JGV’s new book (it’s really lovely and one of his most accessible). Education? That’s what Chopra sells — a beneficent sharing of healthy mindfulness — his own brand of “magic seasoning.” It’s clear that they both love food and that they share so much of its majesty. Deepak expressing his algorithm about the five senses, the six tastes, and the seven colors, while Jean-Georges talked about his love of umami and the tastes of Asia where he spent his formative years learning to be a chef — Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bangkok. When JGV returned to New York in 1986 following his stints in Asia, he headed not for the farmer’s market (“there was hardly anything to buy way back then,” he mused), but to Chinatown for a healthy dose of fresh produce and “exotic” ingredients. Whereas these may have become staples in many of our pantries, we have come to know and respect them largely due to Jean-Georges’ wildly inventive, brilliantly hued, inclusion of Asian verve into French classicism.
Deepak’s wildly informed medical prowess has him inserting dozens of heart-mind-body connections to the joys of eating. “The same neuropeptides that are found in our brain are also found in our stomachs.” “The mood we are in when we eat greatly affects the metabolism of our food in both positive and negative ways.” “Prana, or life energy, is so closely tied to the health of the food we eat — so make it organic, sustainable,” — all underscoring the dynamic relationship of food and health.
For 25 years now, I’ve called Jean-Georges the “pilot light” of creativity — for in the culinary kingdom of great talent and artistry, it is quite remarkable to soar to the top — and then stay there — with every new endeavor. He was the original “juice man;” he replaced heavy sauces and stocks with vibrant vegetable extractions. He’s a zealot, and his exquisitely light style of cooking sparked a culinary revolution in America. For a stint, he was “in the weeds” — as his ever-changing world of taste laid in the wild — little-known leaves, weeds, and flowers like Queen Anne’s lace, chicory root, and pigweed — more poetically called lamb’s quarters. And now, he’s a farm-to-table guy, just like Chopra who uttered the word locavore last night, like a prayer.
These guys have a lot in common. Deepak has written over 65 books; Jean-Georges has 27 restaurants with more on the way. They are both pioneers and at the forefront of important cultural and sociological movements. They are both involved in aspects of their craft that extend way beyond the limits imposed by anyone else. They are free-thinkers and seem to agree with other great thinkers that: “food is medicine” and “you are what you eat.” They may also both believe in a spirituality of food. I know I do.
And at the end, they both agreed, “It is always about delicious.”