New York Gears Up for Malaysian Restaurant Week

Zak Pelaccio and his Fatty Crab empire definitely have pushed the boom of Malaysian food in the city. Or rather, Pelaccio has made Malaysian cuisine more popular to the masses that had never heard of Malay fish fry, chicken claypot, or the spicy curry dish java mee. Today the city kicks off the second annual Malaysian Restaurant Week, an event that runs until June 24 and includes not only New York, but New Jersey and Connecticut as well.

In the city you can get your Malaysian on with a three-course menu for $20.12 at popular establishments including Laut, Café Asean, Nyona, and of course, Fatty Crab, though both locations strictly offer the prix fixe deal for lunch, before 7pm or after 10pm. Also on the line up are some Asian-fusion restaurants that are offering a special Malaysian menu for the week. These include Top Chef contestant Angelo Sosa’s Social Eatz, Ian Kittichai’s Ember Room, Dragonfly, Wild Ginger in Midtown East, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market, though only for lunch. Not a bad line up considering the small number of Malaysian restaurants in the city, and, for you adventurous types, this weekend the Asian Food Markets in North Planfield, NJ will be hosting a sampling of the cuisine from 10am to 6pm.

The Weekend: Ridiculous Parties, Bands, & the Return of Brunch

The weekend started in my brain a couple days ago. Watching Cash Cab reruns in my apartment was all I could do to keep from checking out completely. But now it’s Friday, which usually marks the beginning of my aimlessly wandering around town in an alcohol-induced stupor, just happy my fingers aren’t hovering over a keyboard. (Or, I may remain in my apartment in the fetal position, clutching the remote control, paranoid that my computer is staring at me.) Assuming all goes well, I’ll be joining society to participate in the following weekend goings-ons, perhaps a little too enthusiastically (yay guest model DJs at Spice Market!). Otherwise, see you all on Monday, none the wiser, but probably caught up on Mad Men.

LOL I mean, really New York promoters? Really?

Guest Model DJ Nights at Spice Market The title says it all, doesn’t it? Though Jean-Georges’s interpretation of Asian street cuisine might just make you forget that the invite actually says this: “Music & beauty: every show featuring special guest model DJs in the downstairs lounge.” Modelizers rejoice. When: Friday, 9:00PM- 1:00AM. Location: Spice Market, 403 West 13th St.

Halloween Hotness: Cocktails & VIP Costume Fitting for NYC Bloggers NYC bloggers are invited to come sip on spooky cocktails while getting a personal Halloween costume fitting from the style experts. Tee-hee. When: Friday, 6:00PM- 9:00PM. Location: Screaming Mimi’s, 382 Lafayette Street.

RAD Have something to talk about at the water cooler on Monday morning.

Edgar Allan Poe and His Ghostly Neighbors of Greenwich Village Walking Tour Get in the Halloween spirit! When: Saturday, 9:30PM. Location: Tour starts at Fire Patrol Station No. 2, 84 West Third Street, one block south of Washington Square Park between Thompson and Sullivan Streets in Manhattan.

Edible Garden Exhibition Celebrity Chef weekend at the New York Botanical Garden’s Edible Garden exhibition with Mario Batali, Todd English, and others. If Batali tells me to eat my garden, I will eat my garden. When: Saturday, 12PM-6PM. Location:New York Botanical Garden.

SLOPPY DRUNKS Brunch wars begin, and lead to a night of serious debauchery.

Day & Night Brunch at the Plaza Hotel Team Day & Night bring the party to the uptown set. When: Saturday 12:00 – 6:00pm. Location: Plaza Hotel.

Brunch @Lavo Lavo brings the high end Vegas/NY service schtick north of to 58th street, entering the lucrative and crowded brunch fray. When: Saturday 12:00PM-6:00PM. Location: Lavo.

…and just across the street…

Tao’s 10th Anniversary Party Somehow, something old enough starts to become cool again, at least that’s what I’m thinking. DJ Ross One will spin next to that giant Buddha statue. When: Saturday, 9PM. Location: Tao.

MUSIC Get low.

Los Campesinos!, Byrds of Paradise, Johnny Foreigner. When: 8:00 PM $20. Location:Music Hall of Williamsburg.

King Khan & The Shrines, Gentleman Jesse & His Men, Golden Triangle When: Friday 7:00 PM $15. Location: Santos Party House .

Small Black, Phonetag, We Are All Romans When: Friday 9:00 PM $8. Location: Shea Stadium.

Deerhunter, Real Estate, Casino Versus Japan When: Friday 6:00 PM $20. Location: Webster Hall.

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, Willy Mason When: Saturday 8:30 PM $20. Location: Bowery Ballroom.

Apache Beat, MINKS, Von Haze, Wise Blood When: Saturday 11:00 PM $5. Location: Cameo Gallery, 93 North 6th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The Heavy, Mayer Hawthorne, and the County, Childish Gambino When: Sunday 7:00 PM $20. Location: Bowery Ballroom.

Industry Insiders: Eva Ziegler, Hotel Brand-Aid

If we start making a list of excellent career choices, Eva Ziegler may have to play role model right at the top. The Austrian-born marketing mastermind is the “Global Brand Leader” for W Hotels and head of the global launch for Le Méridien Hotels as part of parent company Starwood Hotels & Resorts. From her home base in New York, Ziegler spends her 9 to 5 working on strategic planning (establishing the Starwood brand, scope, marketing strategies, implementing design) for hotels across the globe. Arguably, the biggest perk is that her job also includes traveling to all of these hotels (from Istanbul to Bali). In a smooth Austrian accent, the charming power player makes it all look and sound effortless, in between jet-setting to exotic locations to conduct business, of course.

What’s a typical day in your job? I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical day in my job, and that’s actually the beauty of the story. My job is global which means that I am on the road a lot; different locations around the world, different people to meet and different cultures to understand. So, to some extent I don’t find a real routine in my job. You can only really love a brand if you really know your product. Brand leaders are not just people who do communications and paint pretty pictures but actually set the strategic framework.

When you visit one of your hotel locations, what are some of the first things that you look for? The first impression that you have is the people. When you meet the people it sets the tone and you kind of right away know the atmosphere that awaits you. The people are enormously important to the story. Also the overall look from a design perspective. It’s a very design-led brand. The first ten minutes are critical.

Which is your favorite location and why? Overall, as a person I love vibrant, multidimensional cities. Cities that are multifaceted and that offer a spectrum of things. My dream has always been to live in New York one day so to live here is one of my dreams come true. Also I love Istanbul. I love Hong Kong. I also love creative, artsy places like Barcelona. Around the world in general, I love places that are full of life and creative potential.

Hobbies you’ve picked up while traveling? I think helicopter skiing is one of the ultimate experiences of man and nature. To me it’s like complete freedom to some extent, when your eye has complete freedom.

How is Starwood fighting against the economic downturn? On our side we see the challenge as an opportunity to some extent, because it makes you rethink everything that you’re doing. So in the end, after the crisis, we’ll actually come out stronger than when we went in. The whole idea is to own the upswing. From a W perspective, we’ve opened seven hotels this year, with four more to go this year. By 2012, we’re going from currently 33 hotels to 60 hotels. We’re building for the long term. From a Starwood perspective, we’re “painting the house.” We’ve opened 250 hotels in the last three years, we renovated another 350 hotels, so 60 percent of our total portfolio will be renewed or new. We want to be in the best shape when the economy bounces back.

Where do you stand in Le Meridian’s global launch? Le Méridien is a very different story than W Hotels. The W brand was created in ’98 from scratch by Starwood. Le Méridien was bought in ’05 with a 35-year history. We wanted to relaunch the brand and transform it into a lifestyle brand. Basically, we’ve transformed the product. From the original 130 hotels we bought, we’ve exited 40. Out of the 90 hotels from the original purchase, we’ve renovated hotels in the double digits so far. We’ve also opened another 15 hotels. Le Méridien is meant to provide art in a new perspective. The ultimate thing is that Le Méridien should become a gathering place for the creative type. As much as the W is about socializing around cocktails and the bar, Le Méridien is more about engaging people in dialogue and conversation around coffee. To re-launch a brand is not something that happens in a year, it’s a long-term project.

What’s your number-one necessity when you travel? My first necessity is running shoes, and the second is my iPod.

Dream spot for a hotel? I’ve just seen a fascinating project of transforming old oil platforms into hotels. It turns into an entirely environmentally friendly solution. The idea of sustainability and being respectful to the planet is very important to me.

Your go-to spots in New York? Balthazar for brunch; Spice Market; Café Sabarsky which is a Viennese café for whenever I’m feeling homesick. Also Macchiato Espresso Bar, Milk and Honey and Whiskey Blue at W New York.

Industry Insiders: Larry Poston, Room Service Provider

Larry Poston officially opened the West Village resto Hotel Griffou with business partner Johnny Swet on July 1. Poston made his name in New York restaurant circles as a manager at Pastis and the Waverly Inn, and Swet gained his hospitality know-how at Balthazar and Freemans. Most recently occupying the 9th Street space was notorious speakeasy Marylou’s, but the name of the new joint is after the original, French 1870s occupants. The modern dining rooms are themed as a salon, library, and artist’s studio with a French-inspired classic cuisine menu. Poston gives us an inside look at the new spot.

What are you focusing on now that you’re open for business? My business partner Johnny and I are really priding ourselves on great food and great service. That’s what we know. We’ve learned from Keith McNally that no matter all the fanfare and no matter what comes in, great food and great service are the only things that keep them coming back ten years down the road.

How did you first meet Keith McNally? I started waiting tables at Pastis in 2000, so I interviewed with Keith. He hired me, and I worked there for six months and then moved out to LA with dreams of being an actor. I was a pool boy at the Chateau Marmont for four months. So that was my West Coast experience. I hated LA. I came back and started waiting tables again at Pastis. They promoted me to manager on the floor, and I worked at Pastis for six years.

Most important thing you learned from McNally? Keith had been a maître d’ when he first started out. He taught me a lot as far as what to look for with people, and he would say, don’t just seat the people in front of you with the suits and the flashy money, because they always get a table. Look behind them and see the nervous couple or the little old couple or the funky-looking group that doesn’t always get a table, and seat them. That adds to the room and also keeps that eclectic mix of New York going. You don’t always want suits, you don’t always want fashion people, you don’t want all of any one thing. I would love to have Mick Jagger over here, some drag queens over there with a rock band and then some Wall Street guys. That’s what keeps it interesting. That’s New York to me.

Then you worked with another legend, Graydon Carter. It was just that time, that point of trying something new and spreading your wings and getting out there. And that’s when I met Graydon Carter over at the Waverly Inn. That was a whole other aspect of service and learning people because that’s a man who is like maître d’ to the stars. He’s the epitome of a host. It’s his room, and he knows where everyone should go. I got to know a lot of names at the Waverly Inn, obviously.

What’s the Waverly’s secret for remaining A-list over the years? You have Eric Goode and Sean McPherson who know restaurants, and they also have their own chic clientele of people who they bring to any project they’re involved in. You get that mixed with the energy of Graydon Carter and all these amazing A-listers in there for a great dining experience. You get the mix of a person who knows the people and the people who know how to run a restaurant. Once, I was telling a friend some of the names who went in the place one night, and he was like, “So, what you’re telling me is, if the Waverly was to explode right now, it would be the end of civilization.”

What’d you take from that experience to opening Hotel Griffou? How to deal with certain people. There are a million different personalities here in New York City, and then you have a certain amount of clientele that is …

High maintenance? Well, the great surprise is when the ones you expect to be high maintenance aren’t. It’s just having to deal with personalities. Higher-end personalities have higher expectations. You learn how to coddle egos in a way. I think that’s what the Waverly taught me: how to really deal with egos. That’s a good way to say it.

What came first for Hotel Griffou — the concept or the space? Johnny and I talked about doing this for awhile, and we had a concept. We had this place over in the East Village at one point, because we were thinking of modeling after some of those southern juke joints, speakeasy-type places that have great names like the Playboy Club or the Lizard Lounge. But you have to walk into a space that feels right. Johnny worked at Freemans, and I worked at the Waverly Inn, and both those places are very unique — Freemans is down that alley, and the Waverly Inn is at the bottom of a townhouse. In New York. It has to have a special vibe or a special space, then the bones were here and boom. I was never here for the Marylou’s experience, but I’d heard these amazing stories about what was here before. We’re hoping we can return it to some of its past glory.

You’re obviously alluding to that with the name. Hotel Griffou was what is was in the late 1800s. It was owned by this woman by the name of Madame Marie Griffou. It became this real mecca of ideals, artists, writers, and poets. One of the true stories is that Mae West actually did come here after her indecency trial, which is funny.

How long has this been in the works? From embryo to now — about two years. We initially started construction this past February.

What’s your favorite part of the interior? I can’t really choose. The inspiration Johnny and I talked about was an artist’s town house. There’s something about the feel of the salon, and I like the studio because of the crazy art and all the work that’s been contributed. Johnny spearheaded the design, but it was collaborative, and all the work that was contributed was by artist friends.

How much input did you have in the menu with chef Jason Michael Giordano (of Spice Market)? Johnny and I had ideas of what we wanted on the menu . We wanted those traditional dishes. Classical American cuisine is what we called it, and then we discovered that this place was owned by a French woman, and we had to throw a French nod to the cuisine. We wanted a signature dish, which is the lobster thermidor fondue.

Is that the most popular menu item? Yes, as well as the poutine, which is French fries with duck confit topped with a little buffalo mozzarella. It’s amazing. Also, the fried seafood basket, which is something from home. I love fried food, fried fish, cod, fried shrimp, fried oyster, with chips, we’re calling it Calabash, we’re not going to call it Southern, but yeah, that’s exactly what it is. It’s a mix of some rich dishes and some light dishes. We thought that the idea of a great restaurant was that you can go here three or four nights a week and always have a new experience.

True that the pork cutlet recipe was found on the menu from the 1800s here? It’s very true. We have a sautéed pork cutlet recipe that was on the original Madame Marie Griffou menu from 1892. They’re sautéed, lightly breaded with this delicious pork gravy au jus with green beans. They’re delectable.

How was your soft opening? It was great because we invited a lot of industry people that we’d worked for and trusted their opinion. We got really good feedback and notes that we can take with us to keep improving. You get a little anxiety about your peers coming, and knowing you’re going to really hear the truth — which can be unpleasant, but always necessary. The bottom line is that everyone was pleased with the look, the feel, and the vibe of the place, which is important.

Where do you go out? I like Norwood a lot, and Little Branch. As far as dining I still love Indochine and also Peasant.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

Photo: Scott Pasfield

Where Strippers Go for Fun in New York

Everyone’s got an office. For Mario Batali, it’s the kitchen; for LeBron James, the court. And for BlackBook staffers, it’s an actual office. But for the girls who work at Rick’s Cabaret and Steakhouse, the office is something entirely different. It’s the stage-to-ceiling brass pole, or the giddy lap of an Asian salaryman. But when daily tasks include gyrating your hips to a T-Pain banger or sipping bubbly with VIPs in the champagne room, what space does that leave for a regular nightlife? Last week, after a long day at our office (be sure to check out the raw source material), we decided to visit theirs to fulfill our journalistic duty by asking them the essential question: Where do you like to go out in New York?

Ashton, age unknown Where are you from? Moscow. Where do you like to go out in New York? Usually I like to go to Pacha. How long have you been in New York? Two years. And do you and the girls go out after work? No, after work I’m so tired. I just want to sleep. Do any of your customers ever invite you to go out with them after work? Never. It’s like my rule. I never give my number.

Suzy, age unknown Where do you go out in New York? I like to go downtown a lot. If I’m just chilling out, I usually go down on the Lower East Side. Like, to Niagara and 7B. Or, if I want to go out — I know a bunch of, like, promoter friends — I go to The Box. Or, I live really close to Apothéke. Do you and the other girls from work ever go out after a shift? I’ve gone out with some of the girls. After a shift, there’s not that much open — like, as far as alcohol. So, we’ll go out to like, the next block and do karaoke. Or we’ll go to like, Noribong, or go out to eat. And what restaurants do you like to go to? I don’t know. I like to go to a whole bunch of restaurants. I love eating. Everywhere. Have you ever given a lap dance to anyone famous? Not in the sense like, in the media. Because they always like to bring them to someplace private, and so they usually bring girls who are like, you know, typical stripper, with huge implants. You know, like, in your face. And me, I’m not like that. I’m like the pseudo-stripper. Can we take a picture of you? No.

Becky, 24 And how long have you been working at Rick’s? Two years. Do you like to get drunk? Ha ha, I love to get drunk! Okay. And you love to get drunk? Yes, I love to get drunk. How many nights a week would you say you drink? Probably 6 days, or 7? I drink too much. Do you drink at work? Yes, all the time. For free? Yea, most of the time. And do you go out afterwards? No, I usually go right home. I’m not big on going out after work. Sometime I go to Niagara or Ace Bar. It’s an amazing place. You’ve got the Skee-Ball. You’ve got all kind of games. It’s a real laid-back, chill kind of place, you know? Do you ever stay in? Hardly anymore, no. What restaurants do you like? I love Stanton Social. I like La Zarza. What about clubs? I’m not a club girl. I’ll go to like, Buddha Bar. But I’m not into the club thing. Everybody’s all coked up. You can’t talk, you know what I mean? I’m kind of more like, Little Branch, PDT, Mason Dixon. What’s your favorite cocktail? Stoli O, on the rocks. No hangover. I take it all night.

Shaleen, 19 Where do you go out? I don’t. Why not? Because I’m a hard-working mother. I work and I go home. Do you ever go out to restaurants? I went about 2 weeks ago to Asia de Cuba. I heard it was really good food, and it was. It was wonderful. How long have you been living in New York? I’ve been living in New York my whole life. So where did you go out before you were a hard-working mother? Well, that was when I was a teenager. I was just going to teen parties. And how many nights a week do you work at Rick’s? Usually 3-4 days a week. And do you drink when you work? I do not. Not at all. Have you been out in the last month? I went out once to the Cellar Bar in the Bryant Park Hotel. And do you ever pay for your own drinks? It’s rare. Do you get hit on a lot? I mean, I get hit on. It’s to the point where most men that are with their girlfriends look like they want to be with me.

Dior, 20 How long have you been working at Rick’s? Only like, 2 months. How long have you been living in New York? I was here about a year and half ago, before I left for Miami. And now I’m back for good. Where do you like to party in New York? I’m boring. I Like loungey spots. So, I haven’t found anything in New York, yet. I’ve been to Mansion once (now called M2). Mansion is fun. Like, when you want to just get all the party out of your system — go to Mansion. And I go to a lot of restaurants like Wolfgang’s Steakhouse up the street. Do you ever have to pay for your own drinks? I don’t ever pay for my own drinks. I refuse. How many nights a week do you go out after work with the other girls? Being at work is kind of like going out. Plus I’m new here, and I keep my co-workers at a certain boundary. So all the friends I have are all quote unquote “normal.” Do your parents know you’re a stripper? Technically, no. What do they think you do? They just think I work in a bar. They probably know I’m a stripper … it’s just a conversation we choose not to have. .

Saki, 25 Where do you go out in New York? Besides here, I love going to the Meatpacking District. Spice Market, Hotel Gansevoort. I’m not that exclusive, so I don’t really go anywhere that’s secretive. I’m not that VIP. Do you want to be? Yes, I do. Why do you like Hotel Gansevoort? Because it’s relaxing. There’s places to sit. It’s more like a lounge, and not so much a discotheque. I can’t stand clubs. Why not? Because it’s a huge exercise in futility. There’s a lot of sweat, and there’ s a lot of people who just get drunk, or get stoned. And it’s not that interesting to me. Do you ever go out after work? Oh, I’m here until 4 in the morning. I told you, I’m not that exclusive, so I don’t go to any after-hours hang-out spots. When you go out, do guys pay for everything? Not really. I have to buy everything. I’d rather not be bothered. If I got out and a guy tries to talk to me, and if I’m really not interested — I don’t want anything to do with him, like not even free drinks. Because I just don’t want him to follow me around. Are you friends with any of the strippers here? I’m friends with Suzy. I think you talked to her, earlier? How long have you been at Rick’s? Oh, since the day I started. Like, 6 months ago. Do you get drunk at work? Not really. You develop a huge alcohol tolerance here.

Gaby, 20< Where do you go out in New York? I don’t go out, especially when it is too cold. And I use my computer a lot. I play poker and Facebook all the time. So I’m more of a house person. All of my friends are promoters. They’re always inviting me to Marquee, Johnny Utah’s, 49 Grove, Tenjune. So why don’t you go? Because when it’s a promoter, it’s like a bunch of girls, and maybe 1 or 2 guys. Because they’re promoting tables. If there were more guys, I would go. But I mean, come on. Do you like to get drunk? I have never been drunk in my life. I have had like one or two drinks, and they got me. But not like, drunk. I’m always sober. I just go to flirt. And dance with the guys How long have you been working at Rick’s? Like, a year. How long have you been in New York? 6 years. Do you ever tell guys you meet that you’re a stripper? No … unless they are my boyfriend, I don’t have to say shit.

Patricia, 27 Where do you go out in New York? Just here. You don’t go out anywhere else? Just at Rick’s. You don’t go out to clubs? Or bars? Restaurants? Nope. How many nights a week do you work here? Five. 5 nights a week. So the other 2 nights you stay home? Well, no. These nights I’m in the spa. I stay all day long in the spa. Sometimes I go out with my friend to eat some Brazilian food. Are you Brazilian? Yes. How long have you been in New York? One year and one month. How long have you been at Rick’s? One year. Do you like to drink? Nope. I like to bring very hot men in the champagne room. I like champagne, I like strawberries. But he would have to be very hot. What do you do in the champagne room? It depends. If the guy’s very hot, I’ll have some champagne and some strawberries and cream. So, if they’re hot, you’ll bring them into the champagne room? Yes. Very hot and fun. And rich? That’s necessary. But if they are hot, and they are fun — But there’s no sex in the champagne room, right? No sex. But we have a great time.

Industry Insiders: Ludo Lefebvre, Lavo’s Messenger of Happiness

The creator of the Mediterranean masterwork menu at Lavo at the Palazzo in Vegas, chef Ludo Lefebvre on his rebel image, the year of the Aries, and succumbing to In-N-Out.

Where can you be found when kitchen duty is over? I like L’atelier de Joel Robuchon. The food is perfectly executed, and it is a comfortable environment. I also like Picasso at the Bellagio and Mix at the Mandalay. My other two current choices in Las Vegas are found off the Strip. First, Lotus of Siam. When you pull in to the parking lot, you will never expect the quality of food you are going to have. As soon as you open the door and see all of the press and the awards on the wall, you know that it’s going to be a special experience. I really love that the chef is doing what she loves, and not worried about a fancy environment. No one eats the curtains and the plates, so does it really matter?

Casa di Amore is another local’s restaurant off the Strip. I walk in and feel like I am visiting Las Vegas 30 years ago. It’s very classic Italian. There is live music most nights. I’ve won some money here at the video poker machines, so maybe that’s why I really like it. When we finished Christmas dinner at home, we all decided to go to Casa di Amore for a nightcap. It is just that kind of place. Finally, my friend Martin Picard opened up a restaurant in Montreal called Au Pied du Cochon. I love his concept. It’s great, simple food and a friendly, comfortable ambiance. He says that when you go to a restaurant to eat salad, you have a problem.

How would you describe yourself? I want to describe myself like an artist at heart. I love to be creative, and my food is really an expression of who I am. I am a messenger of happiness for the customer.

Where does this love of cooking come from? As a kid, I would stay with my grandmother all the time, and she cooked every day. My grandpa had a big garden with lots of fresh vegetables, and every day I was with my grandmother in the kitchen, cooking with fresh ingredients.

Do you use some of your grandmother’s recipes today? No, not really. Of course I have some memories of her food. I’m from Burgundy, and we make a lot of stews. I remember my grandmother’s stews, with roast beef and potatoes and lots of vegetables. It was very simple food but just all about ingredients — fresh from the garden.

Who are people that you admire in the hospitality industry? I love Jean-Georges Vongericthen. He has amazing restaurants, and he creates so many different concepts. I really admire him for what he’s done. To create concepts that allow you to eat your own food around world — I think that’s amazing. To take care of just one restaurants its so difficult, but Jean-Georges handles so many — and every time I’ve been to one, I had a great experience. He’s very creative, and I love his philosophy of cooking.

What is your favorite restaurant of his? I really love Spice Market in New York. He also has Jean Georges in Shanghai. I love that as well. I think it’s the ambiance, the food, and everything.

What’s something that people don’t know about you? Well, I am a nice guy. I have a big heart. Most people think I’m crazy because I’m so passionate about my job. I know I scream sometimes, but I don’t bite. People will see my tattoos and think I’m a bad boy, but I’m a nice guy.

What’s on your radar right now? I’m trying to learn how to meditate. When I’m too upset about something and I need to calm down, I need to meditate. I’ll try to do a little more exercise like yoga or Pilates too. I need to take care of myself a little more.

What do you have in the horizon for 2009? They say it is my year. I am an Aries, and it’s the year of the Aries. I’m ready to take control of this year and see what the it is going to give me.

Let’s say I’m going to Lavo for dinner tonight; what should I order? I think you should have the pizza. It’s homemade dough with lobster, onions, truffle oil, and potato. I’m very proud of my pizza dough too. Pizza dough is all about the water, and in Las Vegas, the water is so bad. So I add minerals and create my own water, but it’s a secret. You should also get the sea bass and finish with the bread pudding. It’s sautéed like French toast.

What is your guiltiest pleasure? In-N-Out Burger. The Double Double.

Industry Insiders: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Gallic Master

Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the superstar behind elite New York restaurants Jean Georges, Spice Market, Matsugen, Perry Street, Vong, Mercer Kitchen, JoJo, and Nougatine on passing up coal and engineering for cooking, getting wine for his birthday as a kid, and bringing food back to its origins.

Point of Origin: I’m from Strasbourg, a big city in Alsace. It was a pretty big house, and we were cooking for 20 for dinner, it was a big deal. We had all of our meals at home; my grandmother cooking, my mother cooking. It may have been a one-pot stew, so it gave me a taste for making food for a lot of people. Every morning, I remember the smells around me; when I was eight or ten, I could tell you exactly what day of the week it was by what was on the stove. And I always knew what I wanted to do: cook! In 1957 I got a bottle of wine for my birthday, but by the time I was 16, I had only been to six restaurants in my life and never really knew that somebody could actually make a living by cooking. I started cooking at 16 as an apprentice. I wasn’t going to school, but working with a chef. In 1973, I began as an apprentice at the Auberge de l’ιll, which has now been going for 50 years. In 1976, they gave us a test, and I was voted Best Apprentice. I went to Paris for the finals and received the highest score in regional France, but the apprentices competed against each other there, and I finished third.

How did you get your start? I was the oldest of my brothers, so I was supposed to take over my father’s part of the coal business, and at age 15 I was sent to engineering school. I hated every minute of it. My father was really, really upset and wanted to know what I wanted to do with my life. So I told him I wanted to be a chef and that I should be cooking. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but I was totally unexposed to anything like the business of cooking. One day, my father took me to a restaurant, and the chef came by the table. My father asked if he was looking for somebody to train. I got lucky. I studied and cooked and am still the only chef in my family.

What changed your life? When that chef stopped at our table, it was like looking at my future, and my father just hoped I was just good enough to wash dishes! I went to his restaurant for two weeks on a trial basis, and they really taught me how to cook — the basic techniques of cooking — and it was great. At the time I began as an apprentice, nobody was really into restaurants, but it was the beginning of my career, a passion that turned into a business. I’m still passionate about it 35 years later.

Any non-industry projects in the works? There’s a lot of waste when we make food, so we have a lot of companies who come to pick up what we don’t use. Like Share our Strength, a great organization that does a lot of good for cancer, and the Central Park Conservancy. We’re helping left and right, we’re raising money for good causes. When you share what you have — your talent — it’s good for you, too.

What about your diversion into mondo condo land and hotels? I did it! I haven’t had any education since I left school at 15, and actually, I learned how to do this business in New York. I was 32 when I got my first restaurant, and went back to school in Manhattan at Hunter College to take a course on how to run a business in New York; how to get permits, a liquor license, all of it. You can’t take things for granted. I just wanted a hotel, built around a restaurant, but the architect found out that the property next door to it was available as well, so we went into construction there too, but for condominiums [Calvin Klein bought the first apartment as Vong had vowed to cook for the buyers.]

Favorite Hangouts: I’ve just got a house in Westchester, in Waccabuc, and I go to places around there, where I don’t have a restaurant. I get to relax every weekend. I turned 50 last year and decided not to work weekends. I have a garden, and I’m going back to my roots, cooking for a lot of people. It’s a one-pot meal with garlic and olive oil, and people serve themselves. I have friends over with my wife and daughter, whoever’s around.

Industry Icons: Everyone in this business has been so good to me, and it’s so hard to choose, but among my icons is my mentor, Paul Bocuse. I have a lot of other mentors and a lot of people I respect. You really have to set an example for all people. People are not easy, and the restaurant business is a big task.

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with? I mean, I’m not the type of person who goes much beyond my family — my wife and my daughter — nothing flashy. I don’t go out just to hang out.

Future Projects: Relaxing, that’s for sure on the weekends, but I’m thinking of going back to the old days when people decided to invent the “real food world.” I really want to go back to something super organic — scallops with a little garlic, very world friendly, ABC food. You take all of the superfluous away, and you get back to the essentials. When you’re young you try to impress, and as you get older, you get down to what’s important. Its how I look at life … I look at the essentials. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an architect and a chef, and now, I am! Of course, we’ve opened a new Japanese restaurant in the W in Atlanta, and will be doing the same in the Venetian, like the one in Vegas. There are so many restaurants in a place like New York, the economy cleans out the overflow.

What are you doing tonight? I’m driving down to the new place on Church and Leonard, on my way to meet Japanese investors.