Jean-Georges’ Italy is in Shanghai

The curious case of the Italian restaurant created by the famous Alsatian chef, with a young Korean chef at the helm

21-03-2014
The fascinating interior of restaurant Mercato, in

The fascinating interior of restaurant Mercato, inside the Three on the Bund in Shanghai, China. "This restaurant serving fusion cuisine inspired by Italian recipes was born thanks to the idea of Alsatian chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who put the very young Korean chef Sandy Yoon in charge (photo smartshanghai)

She’s 27, from Korea, with a sweet face, a minute body, skilful hands and lots of energy. Sandy Yoon is the person to whom Jean-Georges Vongerichten has handed Mercato, the first Italian restaurant in the world owned by the Alsatian chef - in fact, in the words preferred by the chef, it is a “restaurant inspired by Italian recipes”. And this after he had already opened restaurants serving French, Thai, and Japanese cuisines, steakhouses, spice markets and fusion restaurants. This one is located on the 6th floor of the prestigious Three on the Bund building, in Shanghai. One floor below there’s the chef’s flagship restaurant, that is to say Jean Georges.

French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, leads an empire made of 20 restaurants in 9 towns. It all started with Jojo in New York, opened over 20 years ago

French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, leads an empire made of 20 restaurants in 9 towns. It all started with Jojo in New York, opened over 20 years ago

How can it be that a very young woman from Korea becomes the executive chef of an “almost Italian” restaurant under the great French chef, and in China? Everything starts with common family roots. It is renown that in Asia family ties are more resistant than bamboo fibres: “I had been working for 3 years as sous chef at Jean Georges’s Spice Market in NewYork, and because my sister was moving from Taiwan, where she was working, to Hong Kong, I thought that the moment had come for me to explore my Asian roots once again”. So Yoon first left the Big Apple to spend a short time at the Spice Market in London, working as sous executive chef at the W Hotel in Leicester Square, and then moved to New York to work on the Mercato project in Shanghai.

“In the US, JeanGeorge and I prepared a draft of the recipes and once I arrived in China I had to adapt the ideas to the ingredients that were available in Shanghai. Based on this, we decided the final menu together, but in fact I hear from JG on a weekly basis, and every time I prepare a new dish, I discuss it with him, send him pictures and descriptions, we share opinions and I listen to his suggestions ".

PUPIL. Sandy Yoon, from South Corea, 27 years old

PUPIL. Sandy Yoon, from South Corea, 27 years old

Vongerichten’s biggest lesson? “Our role, as chefs, is to satisfy clients, and you understand if you have satisfied them if they come back”. Therefore, the creative act of the demiurge chef is very important, “but the same goes for the precision and the capacity to constantly replicate quality, because if a client returns and orders the same dish and finds something different, it is likely he will be disappointed”. Therefore, good chefs are not only chefs who give life to dishes, but also the amanuenses who have transformed their hands into art tools.

And speaking of dishes: which are the clients’ favourites? “The favourite dish among our clients is a crossover of Asian and Western culture: Seared seafood salad with avocado sauce and wine marinade. Then there are national inclinations: Western people prefer dishes with dairy products, Chinese don’t like goat cheese so they avoid pecorino; instead, they love dishes that recall Shanghai, such as the Lobster ravioli which strongly recalls Xiao long bao dumplings.

Home made ricotta with cranberries, olive oil and toasted bread

Home made ricotta with cranberries, olive oil and toasted bread

We previously mentioned ingredients. Where do those used at Mercato come from? “China is a large country, with very different climates and soils. Truffles come from the Himalaya, scallops from Dalian, fresh fish from Fujian, near Taiwan, herbs and salads from Yunnan, burrata and stracciatella from an artisanal farm near Shanghai. I’d say I always look for local products, because there’s nothing fresher than local products. But then, of course, when this is not possible, I use imported products”.

As for local production, where does Mercato want to arrive? “We’ve been open for about one year now. We are still relatively young. Taking into consideration the fact that we are closed at lunchtime, our next goal is to open at noon too, and organise a brunch. After that, we’ll see". Indeed, despite being a only 27, she’s already made her way.

Mercato
6F, Three on the Bund, 3
Zhong Shan Dong Yi Road
Shanghai
China
+86.(0)21.63219922


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