What do you do when you spend an afternoon with one of the chefs whose cuisine you adore and whose cookbook you own? – you ask him to autograph it of course, which I did after being invited to spend an afternoon with world-renowned Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at his Bahamian namesake restaurant Dune at The Ocean Club, A Four Seasons Resort.
Sage advice he wrote in my “Home Cooking with Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes” book – “Shavaughn, Season with Your Senses! Happy Cooking!” – words that may seem so simplistic but that really speak volumes about who this culinary mastermind is as a master of flavors and fusion and whose signature cuisine abandons the traditional use of meat stocks and creams, and instead features the intense flavors and textures from vegetable juices, fruit essences, light broths, and herbal vinaigrettes.
And it was no more evident than in the menu he presented during his Evening with Jean-Georges fundraising event on Friday, October 25, to benefit World Central Kitchen (WCK) an organization that was among the first charitable initiatives on the ground in Abaco and Grand Bahama, areas distressed by Hurricane Dorian. As the Dune event was being held, Jean-Georges simultaneously had all his restaurants in New York earmark a portion of their sales to go to WCK as well.
While patrons dined with a worthy cause in mind, they also were able to partake in a menu that, at its essence, was quintessentially Jean-Georges with locally-sourced ingredients from his suppliers, Alan Brown (seafood) and Maria-Theresa Kemp, Holey Farm (produce) featured prominently on the menu – egg toast caviar; yellowfin tuna tartare, yuzu mustard sauce, and shaved fennel; strawberry grouper, lemon-turmeric emulsion with slowly roasted carrots and tarragon; wagyu beef tenderloin, house-made goat chili butter, baby bok choy and crushed sesame; and two very different desserts to satisfy every taste – carrot cake sundae and a chocolate mousse with peanut caramel chocolate crunch, passion fruit sorbet, and vanilla ice cream.
One of the world’s most famous chefs, he insists on the freshest ingredients possible, which is key to his cuisine. He’s also known for taking the simplest ingredients and elevating them to fine-dining level while not seeming pretentious at all; and then presenting beautifully composed plates that draw you in.
The egg toast caviar was one of those dishes – egg yolk sandwiched between toasted brioche bread and topped with a generous quenelle of caviar and green onions – that was simple, yet utterly decadent. Reminiscent of a comforting grilled cheese sandwich, it hit all the right notes of crisp, yet soft, with a hint of salty brininess from the caviar.
While the freshness of the yellowfin tuna came through, the star of this dish was the yuzu (Asian citrus fruit) mustard sauce which when paired with the fish was almost addictive. It’s a dish the chef is looking to bring to the Dune menu in the near future in place of the popular tuna with ginger which they’ve had for a long time, just to switch things up and keep it fresh.
Strawberry grouper was almost upstaged by the chef’s beautifully vibrant yellow lemon-turmeric emulsion served alongside slowly roasted carrots to bring out the root vegetables’ natural sweetness and anise-flavored tarragon. Because the fish was cooked to perfection, it was silky and luscious and hard to upstage. The final result was that they complemented each other perfectly. It’s another dish that the chef is contemplating adding to the Dune menu that will be a must-do whenever it is added.
With Wagyu beef making an appearance, one would think that anything the chef served with this top of the line beef would simply perform in a supporting role, but his brilliant house-made goat chili butter made with fermented goat peppers refused to take a backseat. One taste of this floral sauce with a hint of spice and you couldn’t help but go back for more and more, and still want more. The chef displayed a deft hand in taming the heat of the fiery goat pepper. The bok choy provided the perfect textural contrast.
Two desserts, a carrot cake sundae and a chocolate mousse with peanut caramel, chocolate crunch, passion fruit sorbet and vanilla ice cream with a passion fruit sorbet, put me in a quandary as to which I liked best. Believe you me, I vacillated between the two trying to determine which I liked best, until I finally decided that the carrot cake sundae, which I hope also makes an appearance on the Dune menu in the near future, was my favorite of the two. But make no mistake about it, that was a tough call to make. And by no stretch of the imagination was it an easy decision, because they were both amazing sweet finishes.
While I may have gotten to spend time with Chef Jean-Georges during his evening of cordiality, hospitality and delicacy at Dune restaurant for the simple reason that he wanted every cent from menu sales to go towards his World Central Kitchen donation, I think I got something even better, I got to spend an entire afternoon with an intimate group of people for this delightful, indulgent experience that allowed me to chat at leisure with a master of cuisine.
While in town for his fundraising event, Jean-Georges also conferred with Dune chef de cuisine Sheniqua Darling on new dishes that could make an appearance on Dune’s menu this fall and winter season. He also made time to touch base with his local suppliers in Maria-Theresa Kemp, owner and operator of Holey Farm, who specializes in the growth of seasonal subtropical organic fruits, heirloom and regular varieties of leafy green vegetables and produce, edible flowers, culinary and medicinal herbs; as well as fisherman Alan Brown – because remember, with Chef Jean-Georges, fresh and local is always best and a priority.
The chef is also looking to add Spice by JG menu items to the Dune menu after the success of the pop-up restaurant over the summer.