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Posts tagged ‘Jean-Georges Vongerichten’

Our Best and Worst Hotel stays of 2019

Two hotels in New York for this year’s pick. One a legendary grand dame undergoing a gentle nip and tuck that more than lived up to its reputation, the other a new, much hyped opening that failed to deliver.


The Best of Times: The Carlyle


The Carlyle entrance

The Carlyle, New York


We booked a three night stay at The Carlyle to celebrate a special occasion and the whole experience was superb. The hotel embodies wonderful Upper East Side New York glamour, just as we’d envisaged. A discreet entrance just off Madison Avenue leads to the small, elegant lobby decorated in Art Deco monochrome with splashes of golden velvet. While the hotel is exclusive we found the service friendly and attentive throughout. And everyone seems to be greeted with “nice to see you” whether it’s your first or hundredth visit.

The Carlyle is being subtly refurbished in parts but cleverly all the classic features that make it special are still there including the famous Bemelmans Bar and the elevator attendants. Our room was one of the recently refurbished ones and successfully blended classic with contemporary. There were some lovely touches such as Central Park murals and quirky rabbit objects reminiscent of the Bemelmans bar downstairs. The room wasn’t huge and the bathroom a bit tight but that’s usual for New York and the beautiful décor made up for it.


Bemelman Bar

Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, New York

We enjoyed fabulous breakfasts every morning in the chic Carlyle Restaurant. And dinner there was the icing on the cake of our stay. We were given the type of table we’d requested beforehand (a corner banquette) and the classic menu and slick service matched the stylish setting perfectly.

For exploring the Upper East Side the hotel’s location was also superb. We had the Met museums and Central Park right on our doorstep and of course the shops of Madison Ave. There are newer, trendier hotels in more fashionable parts of New York but for sheer class this is hard to beat.


The Worst of Times: TWA Hotel


Max Touhey - TWA 13

TWA hotel, JFK, New York. Credit: Max Touhey


When we heard the TWA Hotel opening was coinciding with a trip we had booked to the US, changing planes at JFK, we switched our onward flight so we could stay the night at the hotel. We wish we hadn’t.

The problems started when we looked at the website a few days before our arrival and noticed that the hotel’s only sit down restaurant was fully booked for the evening of our stay. We contacted the hotel direct to ask if they were keeping any tables back for hotel guests and were flatly told no by the Assistant Director of Front Office. He suggested we try the “grab and go” take away outlets in the lobby instead. As we’d been looking forward to an elegant dinner in a “Jean Georges Vongerichten” restaurant it was hardly the experience we hoped for. He also confirmed as per the website that the restaurant was fully booked for breakfast – something we have never encountered in a hotel before.

On top of that, we’d booked the hotel some three months ahead of time and had not been advised then to reserve a restaurant booking as we have with other hotels with popular eateries. When we pointed that out the Assistant Director replied: “reservations didn’t start being booked until mid April.” He did not respond when we questioned why we hadn’t been contacted at that point – still a month before arrival.

The hotel was easy enough to get to when we landed at JFK and the architecture is truly stunning so we still hoped to enjoy our stay. However we were surprised to be told when we tried to check in at 3pm that the room wasn’t ready and that check in wasn’t until 4pm. It seems puzzling to have such a late, inflexible check in at an airport hotel when guests are arriving at all times. After an early start and a transatlantic flight the last thing we wanted to do was hang about for the room.

When we eventually checked in the room (we had booked a Deluxe King with a Heritage View) was very attractively designed. Small, but we expected that in New York. But the lack of wardrobe and the fact that my husband could barely walk around one side of the bed was an issue. There was no room for chargers on the bedside tables either. The floor to ceiling windows gave us a great view of the stunning Saarinen building but it also meant we were completely on show to everyone inside that building.

We tried to find the much publicised roof top swimming pool and bar but were told that they weren’t yet open. This too was disappointing as pictures of the roof top had been heavily promoted as part of the hotel’s appeal.

Max Touhey - TWA 7

Sunken Lounge, TWA hotel. Credit: Max Touhey

On the plus side the Sunken Lounge was fun for a cocktail (at Manhattan prices). Plates of olives ($10) and cheese ($20) were not enough for dinner and nearing 8pm we were hungry so went in search of the “grab and go” only to find most of the stalls closed. We managed to buy some gyro from the Halal Guys just minutes before they too closed. No offence to the Halal Guys (they were the only reason we had sustenance that night –there’s no room service) but a donor kebab was not what we had envisaged after our martinis. On returning to our room we found the television didn’t work.

In the morning we checked out first thing and headed to the airside of Terminal in search of breakfast, we’d had enough of the TWA experience. To add insult to injury when we looked at our bill we had been charged $10 plus tax (note this is payable per room per night) “facility fee”. This purportedly covered “free” wi fi “complimentary” access to the fitness centre and luggage storage on arrival/departure. Leaving the wi fi aside, we have never before been charged for fitness centre access (which incidentally we didn’t use plus the pool wasn’t open) or luggage storage in any hotel.

The following week we needed to travel through JFK again and then on to Upstate New York. It would have been ideal to check into the TWA hotel and then travel upstate the following morning. Based on our experience we chose not to – instead we took a cab to Manhattan to stay the night.

Star Chefs on the Rise in Hong Kong

PG in Central (mid res)

Pierre Gagniere in Central, Hong Kong


[UPDATE: Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s will visit his Hong Kong restaurant from October 24th to 30th 2019 to Hong Kong to launch his autumn tasting menu. The five-course menu will be available for lunch and dinner from 24 to 30 October 2018 at HKD1,998 per person.]

Hong Kong is set for another influx of Western celebrity chefs as Yannick Alleno’s long awaited bistro, Terroir Parisien, is slated to open in Central this summer, Bjorn Frantzen has opened Frantzen’s Kitchen and Jean-Georges Vongerichten has returned to the city with Mercato. David Thompson and Wolfgang Puck are also thought to be searching for sites here. But Asian expansion doesn’t mean guaranteed success: Mario Batali’s Carnenvino has closed in Hong Kong, Gordon Ramsay shut his restaurant in Tokyo and both Guy Savoy and Jason Atherton shipped out of Singapore. So what makes some international restaurants thrive in foreign markets while others falter?

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Model Cooks

World's Best Female Chef Helena Rizzo

Helena Rizzo former World’s Best Female Chef

Food and models are not an obvious pairing. Rather than going together like crispy duck and plum sauce, the modelling industry is more likely to make you think of faddy diets or eating disorders. Yet these rarefied sylphs are moving from the catwalk to the kitchen.

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Model Foodies


World's Best Female Chef Helena Rizzo

Helena Rizzo, World’s Best Female Chef 2015

Food and models are not an obvious pairing. Rather than going together like crispy duck and plum sauce, the modelling industry is more likely to make you think of faddy diets or eating disorders. Yet these rarefied sylphs are moving from the catwalk to the kitchen.

British supermodel Jourdan Dunn regularly tweets pictures of dishes she’s cooked. Proving she has good (food) taste, Dunn also recently posted a picture of fried chicken she was about to tuck into at YardBird in Hong Kong. And the model has her own food show, Well Dunn, on You Tube where she cooks gutsy recipes like Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas.

Karlie Kloss, the US supermodel, is a cookie baking fanatic who learnt to read by following baking recipes with her grandmother and bought a Kitchenaid with her first modelling pay cheque. She sells Karlie’s Kookies – in partnership with Momofuku Milk Bar chef Christina Tosi – for charity.

The World’s Best Female Chef, Helena Rizzo, started out in modelling. Rizzo of Mani restaurant in Sao Paolo, number 36 on the World’s Best Restaurants list, became a model on leaving school. Though in an interview last year Rizzo said, “I wasn’t a supermodel, I was a mediocre model. Soon after I decided to go to Europe to learn more about cookery.”

Hemsley and Hemsley--(None)_A2

Jasmine Hemsley (right) with her sister Melissa

Modelling has led to a natural career progression for half British, half Filipino, Jasmine Hemsley. As one of the Hemsley & Hemsley duo, with her sister Melissa, she has produced the hugely popular Art of Eating Well cookbook as well as the Spiralizer (a utensil which turns vegetables into noodle or pasta like ribbons) and the trend for bone broth.

“You definitely have to look after yourself when working as a model – it’s all part of the job,” says Hemsley. “Photoshop and good lighting can’t always hide a night of no sleep or a bad diet.” Helmsley was fascinated by food and health and helped a few colleagues with their eating habits.

“My model colleagues couldn’t understand why I was eating ‘fattening’ butter or a fatty steak so became intrigued. The modelling work was going really well but my hobby on the side turned full time pretty quickly and since I was so passionate about it, it was an easy transition to make.”

The Hemsleys are adamant that healthy food should be delicious too. “We do not advocate calorie counting or cutting out entire food groups. There is a myth that fat is bad. Fat is an excellent source of energy that makes your meals satisfying and tasty.”


Sophie Dahl on set of The Delicious Miss Dahl

Sophie Dahl was an early proponent of the model turned cook phenomenon although she dislikes the moniker. “It wasn’t like a toppled from a catwalk into a kitchen in a freak accident, presented with an oven for the first time,” she has said.

Indian born Padma Lakshmi is a former model turned TV food star in the US. Like Dahl she admits to having no formal training but being a passionate home cook. The Top Chef judge kick started her food career by penning Easy Exotic: A Model’s Low Fat Recipes from around the World, “because everyone wants to know what a model eats.”

Padma Lakshmi

In Hong Kong, Amanda Strang has made the more unlikely transition from model to patisserie chef. “Modelling was my career and cooking and making pastries was my hobby. Models do eat!” she says.

Strang’s intriguing interest in cake making began as a child. “I began making pastries at the age of eight,” she says. “My mother doesn’t know how to bake but my father loves desserts and chocolates so it was mainly because of my father that I started making pastries.”

The half French model enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and then went on to apprentice at Laduree in and Caprice at Hong Kong’s Four Seasons. “I thought of having my own cake shop after I co hosted a food show with [food critic] Chua Lam,” she says. “He is like a mentor to me.”

Strang admits there were a few eyebrows raised when she opened Petite Amanda the patisserie at the IFC. “When I first opened, people came to the shop to see for their own eyes,” she says.

While many who queued were as likely to have been there for a glimpse of Amanda S as much as for the cake she says: “I think the Hong Kong public has been very impressed. It’s never been done before. Models and celebrities put their name to F&B outlets but I went to culinary school and in run the business myself.”


Lorraine Pascale with Jason Atherton

Former model Lorraine Pascale has also forged a successful career in cake making along with cookbooks and TV shows. Most recently she teamed up with Jason Atherton to host My Kitchen Rules in the UK. Pascale admits cooking wasn’t a calling, she was just trying out different courses to find something she could do beyond modelling. She says her first day at Leith’s culinary school in London “was like putting on the right clothes or shoes, it just fit.” Pascale went on to study pastry at the International Culinary Arts and worked in the kitchens at Tom Aikens, Petrus, The Wolseley and the Mandarin Oriental in London.
New York based chef Clarice Lam also swapped the international catwalks for working in pastry – at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market. “I have been interested in food and particularly sweet things since I was a little kid,” she says. “Paris is where I fell in love with pastry. I always loved to cook but after living in Paris and seeing all the beautiful pastries and desserts, I wanted to be a pastry chef.”

Travelling in Europe as a model compounded Lam’s interest in food. “I felt the easiest way to immerse myself in any culture was to study the cuisine. I loved the food in Italy. It is practically impossible to find a bad place to eat there. Paris is the fashion capital of the world, and also the birthplace of pastry. It would be difficult for anyone living in Paris to not take an interest in food.”

As for the assumption that models are on a permanent diet Lam says: “At that time I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain an ounce. But now is a completely different story.”

Despite training at Le Cordon Bleu in Florence and the French Culinary Institute in New York, she felt nervous entering a professional kitchen. “I felt intimidated and overwhelmed. Going to school prepped me with the basics but working in the field was a whole different pace.”

Lam became executive chef at dessert restaurant, The Chocolate Room, in Brooklyn and now runs an online bakery business, The Baking Bean, with plans to open her own store. Her experiences as a model influence her designs: “I have an encyclopedia of images in my brain from my travels. I grab a lot of inspiration from colours, art and architecture.”

While being beautiful helps a TV career, what about in a professional kitchen? “Being a model helped me to get free publicity for my shop,” says Amanda Strang. Clarice Lam has a different take: “It’s not something that I generally talk about. When I am working in the kitchen I prefer people to judge me based off of my skill level as a chef, not for something that I used to be.”

This story was originally posted in February 2015.


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