INTERVIEW: Chef Jean-Georges & Creative Director Paulette Cole on the New abcV Restaurant

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Step into abc carpet & home, or one of the three dining options: abc kitchen, abc cocina, and the new abcV, and you haven’t just left the stressful streets of NYC’s busy Flatiron behind – you’ve actually made a choice to commune with a thoughtfully considered, if you will allow, alternate way of life – Mindful Living, as introduced by the famed restaurateur Jean Georges and his partner and Creative Director / Owner of abc Paulette Cole. The third restaurant in their trilogy, abcV has just opened as the newest entry in the 18/19th St. abc empire.

For 32 years, Paulette Cole has cultivated and shaped with a curator’s eye and a youthful, spirited passion veritably every inch of the store’s space, surely hoping to have visitors take home not just two, three, four exquisite purchases (a Danish modern sofa, a Moroccan wool rug, a pink sapphire & diamond necklace from Marseilles), but also a different way of living their lives.

Surely no one has been more transformed by their contact with Cole’s magical thinking than Jean-Georges Vongerichten – celebrity chef and purveyor of multiple glamorous dining hotspots from New York to London to Hong Kong. Jean Georges and Paulette first met in 2009 and, sufficiently inspired, he opened abc kitchen the following year within the store; by 2013 he had taken over abc’s other restaurant space, debuting abc cocina to rapturous acclaim. (The New York Times’ Pete Wells rhapsodized how, “The vegetables were so tender and seasonal” and that the restaurant “puts you in the excellent dilemma of not knowing which you like better, the food or its sauce.”)

 

 

 

Yet it is their third project together, abcV, which is perhaps the culmination and true embodiment of their now shared philosophy. For Jean-Georges, who built such an exalted culinary reputation on elevated versions of charred squab, toasted foie-gras and spicy glazed baby back ribs, a fully committed vegetarian restaurant may seem at first unexpected – but it actually harks back to his upbringing in France.

“When I was growing up,” JG recalls, “meat was expensive. So [we ate] a lot of grains and vegetables. The excess of the 80s and 90s, where people had a big steak with two string beans on the side…I never ate that way. For me, life is a balance.”

And for Cole, it was “an invitation to create at the highest level without compromises, and also to deliver the kind of deliciousness that only Jean-Georges can. That, combined with a mission that is in service to our personal and planetary wellness.”

To be sure, both make reference often to “plant intelligence” (Jean-Georges is not so fond of the word “vegetarian”), with Cole emphasizing that human evolution is leading us not only to care more about what we put in our bodies – but also how it effects the entire ecosystem. The numbers suggest they are on to the next big thing: market researchers Statistic Brain released a 2016 study confirming that 53% of vegetarians are strongly driven by health concerns, 47% by environmental.

“This restaurant is about paying attention to the natural order,” says Cole. “We play a lot with the bio-mimicry, the magic of it. Like how if you cut open a tomato, it looks like a heart – and it has lycopene that feeds the heart. If you cut a carrot, it looks like an eye – and it has vitamin A for the eyes. Cauliflower and walnuts feed the brain, celery feeds the bones. All you have to do is pay attention.”

 

 

As a luxury plant-based eatery, abcV actually plays to the zeitgeist more than one might at first imagine: The Robb Report last year cited vegan cuisine as one of the hottest culinary trends. And a September 2015 New York Times story titled Vegans Go Glam noted how veganism was on its way to replacing its “dowdy, spartan image with a new look: glamorous, prosperous, sexy and epidermally beaming with health.”

Yet important as they are, the heady concepts recede behind the actual experience of abcV, with the typically fantastical décor, inspired, of course, by the store’s inimitable aesthetic tenets: “sacred spaces.” Indeed, with its sharp, uncluttered and very white interiors, punctuated by bold splashes of color and whimsically rustic lighting fixtures, the restaurant feels playful, soothing, zen – almost anti-urban.

The menus attest to their commitment to reinventing vegetarian cuisine for the most sophisticated of palettes – and they’ve enlisted Chef de Cuisine Neal Harden as their culinary accomplice. Breakfast might include dosas with Swiss chard; fresh steamed tofu roasted cauliflower with harissa; or the wild blueberry bowl with jungle peanut butter. Lunch brings beluga lentils with chili oil & black vinegar; shallot & herb labnah; and avocado lettuce cups. Follow it with vegan matcha creme brulee, of course.

Organic cold press juices and restorative tonics (meant to rejuvenate the heart, brain or spirit) are Heaven on Earth; but if you’re feeling a little naughty, opt for a pomegranate martini or blood orange mimosa.

Undoubtedly, abcV is signaling the future. Last year The Guardian reported that Millennials and Instagram are behind a 350% increase in the number of vegetarians over the past decade – and this is a generation that does not hesitate to spend a significant portion of their income on eating good food in great restaurants.

“The world is going this way,” Jean-Georges observes. “People now want to know where ingredients come from. If it’s a carrot salad, where are the carrots from?”

Or as Cole so thoughtfully puts it, “It’s very important to us to represent a more conscious relationship to the planet and to the food we eat.”

 

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