Getting Fresh with Jean-Georges

whotelThe theater district has a new show in town: Market by Jean-Georges, which recently opened inside the new W hotel. We’ll admit that, in the months preceding the restaurant debut, we had our doubts about whether it’d be a deserving new dining destination or just another ho-hum import from a too-busy-to-care celeb chef. But during a warm, lovely chat with the international culinary superstar himself, Jean-Georges Vongerichten shed a little light on what makes Market work for Boston, and why he’s glad to be back in the Hub after a long hiatus. (His first U.S. venture was Boston’s Lafayette restaurant, which opened in 1985 in what is now the Hyatt hotel and was located just blocks from Market’s site.)

Being the types to eat the frosting before the cake, we’ll skip to the good parts:

He’s mad about juices. He’s talked about his commitment to putting local and seasonal food on his menu, but the same goes for his libations. Vongerichten started experimenting with fresh juices because many of the popular nonalcoholic drinks were sugary liquids with “little authentic taste.”

To create the juices, he takes fresh herbs and fruits and blanches them in water, then blends them with simple syrup, ice and soda. There are two dozen juice recipes in his repertoire, many of which are served seasonally. On the current list at Market: raspberry yuzu, lychee, passion chili, and housemade ginger ale, a soda that actually tastes like ginger and has enough spice to clear the sinuses. In the evening, the juices become the base for creative cocktails: The ginger ale is mixed with tequila and garnished with a ginger salt rim, the raspberry yuzu is mixed with vodka, the passion chili juice gets a shot of whiskey, and champagne is added to the lychee juice for a refreshing bellini. All of the cocktails are available in the W’s lobby bar as well as at Market.

He likes to keep it simple. Vongerichten is dedicated to using local and seasonal ingredients, and prefers not to fuss too much with their pure flavors. “75 percent of the flavor is in the ingredient,” he says. “If you have quality ingredients, you don’t need to do much to the dish to make it taste good.”

It’s all about the produce. While there’s plenty of meat on Market’s menu, Vongerichten credits the availability of fresh vegetables, herbs and spices with chefs’ ability to make personal and unique dishes. “As a chef, you’re limited in what the world offers as far as proteins. There’s no new fish coming out of the ocean. But with vegetables, the options are endless. From one country to another, there are so many vegetables. And herbs! So many herbs and dry spices.”

He’s happy to be back in familiar territory. In order to procure high quality ingredients, Vongerichten rekindled relationships with fishermen and farmers that he had established years before, when he opened Lafayette. Coming back to Boston this year, he says, was an emotional decision. Though he has an ongoing partnership with W hotels, he does have input into which W’s he’s in. When he saw that Boston was an option for Market, he says, “I thought, ‘Wow, it’s like going back home.’” In addition to revisiting Chinatown and the reconnecting with purveyors he got to know in the ’80s, he has made an effort to get acquainted with the city’s current culinary talent, and so far has dined at B&G Oysters, Toro and Craigie on Main.

He’s leaving the restaurant in capable hands. Vongerichten has already returned to New York, but the kitchen at Market is left under the charge of chef Christopher Damskey, who has previously worked under him. So far the chatter about Market has been positive—and based on our first sips of those tasty juices, we’re looking forward to our first bites, too.

Market, W Hotel, 100 Stuart St., Boston, 617-261-8700,

—Abby Bielagus