Years later, he took his daughter Louise to Aspen, Colorado, on a ski vacation. He was 10 or 11 years old and had never had a lesson. He led her to the top of the mountain, and they went down, side by side.
“My dad wants people to go fast, learn, move on,” he said. “He didn’t want to wait for me.”
He remained restless. After he left Lafayette in 1991, he and Mr. Suarez opened a small restaurant on 64th Street that they called Jo Jo, because of his childhood nickname. (More than one family member has said it was actually called Jo Jo la Terreur, the Terror).
Jo Jo was a sensation. For two years, Mr. Vongerichten was in the kitchen every day. But, he said, “I was bored after three months. I thought,” OK, what’s next? “
More opportunities came and he rarely said no. Among them were his French-Asian restaurant Vong, and Spice Market, which he and Mr. Suárez announced in 2006 that they were selling to Starwood Hotels & Resorts, for an amount that Mr. Vongerichten did not disclose.
He learned from his failures. After creating a thriving steakhouse at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, in 2004 he opened V Steakhouse at the Time Warner Center. It featured columns of gold leaf, velvet chairs and rhubarb ketchup. From that mistake came his first lesson: “Don’t try to reinvent the grill. It’s an American staple.”
Another misstep was 66, an exclusive Chinese restaurant that opened in TriBeCa in 2003. When talking about that, his voice rises in frustration, unusual for him. I loved the food. But their fried rice with fresh crab meat was $ 15, while four blocks away, in Chinatown, the same dish with canned crab meat cost $ 3.50. Bad idea, admit.
He recognized the space, unsuccessfully, as a Japanese restaurant. Another lesson: “If I can’t make the food myself, don’t do it. I don’t know how to use a wok. I can’t make sushi.”