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"Culinary Inspirations" From Jean-Georges

This week The Early Show presents its "Culinary Inspirations" series, featuring some of the program's favorite chefs and cookbook authors preparing their favorite spring dishes. The week kicks off with legendary chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who holds no less than 20-stars from the New York Times through his large restaurant empire, which includes Spice Market.

Jean-Georges is a name at the tip of everyone's tongue when you talk about chefs who have made a difference on the dining scene. He has changed perceptions of "French" food. He has brought fusion flavors to the cuisine without sacrificing the French homage to technique.

In 1973, a 16-year-old Vongerichten landed a job at a three-star French restaurant called Auberge de l'Ill. A simple beginning to a tale that made culinary history and launched a reputation almost as remarkable as his food ... almost.

Coined the "enfant terrible of modern French cooking," or the "Madonna of the Kitchen," Jean-George is recognized internationally for his inspired Thai-French cuisine. But his skills extend far beyond his kitchen. A savvy businessman, he operates a number of three- and four-star restaurants in Manhattan, Shanghai and Hong Kong. He has also authored or contributed to a number of cookbooks, including Simple to Spectacular (2000) and Jean-Georges: Cooking At Home with a Four-Star Chef (1998).

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In a singularly notable accomplishment, Jean-Georges was the recipient of three major James Beard Foundation Awards in 1998 -- Best New Restaurant for Jean Georges, America's Outstanding Chef, and Who's Who of Food & Beverage. This remarkable "triple crown" achievement remains unequalled.

It's only natural that one so talented be so widely recognized. Among other notable awards:

"Newcomer of the Year," 1997, London Evening Standard
"Best Cookbook," Jean-Georges: Cooking At Home with a Four-Star Chef, James Beard Foundation
"Best Restaurant in the World," Vong, 1998, Rob Report
"Chef of the Month," November 2000,

Jean-Georges carries a high profile, but he's not too caught up in his success to get his hands dirty. The kitchen is his favorite retreat. He once told Newsweek that cooking is like therapy. "I need my six hours of therapy every day, in every town," he said. "I may not run the marathon anymore, but I do the 200-meters." He's also notably human. For all his culinary sophistication, his favorite meal in the world is dished from a street cart in Thailand.

Vongerichten visited The Early Show to prepare a lemongrass mussels dish from Spice Market with co-anchor Hannah Storm. It's an easy recipe to do at home, but some of Jean-Georges' touches make it unique. This, along with the beauty of his dishes are very representative of what he prepares at Spice Market. Spice Market's menu was inspired by Vongerichten's travels in Southeast Asia. The concept is to share your food, and nothing is overly fussy. Food comes out as the dishes are prepared, no waiting for everything to be timed, and the dishes are inspired by favorite street foods he enjoyed during his travels.


Steamed Mussels With Lemongrass, Basil And Dried Chilies In Coconut Juice

Wash mussels thoroughly and remove beards.

Lemongrass* Infusion
42 oz. coconut juice (4 cans)
1 oz. Galangal peeled and chopped
12 oz. lemongrass bruised and chopped
1 oz. lemon peel
2 green Thai chili split
10 tbs. Lemon juice
4 tsp. salt

Combine coconut juice with galangal and chili and bring to boil. Add lemongrass and lemon peel and stir well, bring to 180 degrees and remove from heat. Let cool, uncovered at room temp. Strain through chinois pushing for total extraction then season with lemon juice and salt. Reserve until needed.

To Serve
1 tsp. Minced garlic
1 tsp. Minced shallot
1 tsp. dried Red Thai chili crushed
1 c. Wide chiffonade Thai basil
2 oz lemongrass infusion

Coat the bottom of a medium saucepan with grapeseed oil and add the garlic and the shallot. Cook until golden, then add the chili, the mussels, 2 oz of the lemongrass infusion and ½ the basil and sprinkle gently with salt. Cover and cook, shaking, over high heat until mussels have opened. Turn mussels into ceramic pot and garnish with remaining basil.

* As for all shellfish, mussels should be alive just before they are cooked because they quickly become toxic after they die. A simple criterion is that live mussels, when in the air, are tightly shut; open mussels are dead and should be discarded. Also closed mussel shells that are unusually heavy should be discarded as well. They usually contain only mud and can be tested by slightly moving the two shells away from each other. The mussel shells open by themselves when cooked.

* Lemongrass is a perennial herb used in Asian (particularly Thai, Lao, Khmer and Vietnamese) and Caribbean cooking. It has a lemony flavor and can be dried and powdered, or used fresh. Commonly used in teas, soups, and curries it is also suitable for poultry, fish, and seafood.

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