Years later, he took his daughter Louise to Aspen, Colo., on a skiing vacation. She was 10 or 11 years old and had never had a lesson. He took her to the top of the mountain, and down they went, side by side.
“My dad wants people to go fast, learn, go forward,” she 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 they named Jo Jo, after his childhood nickname. (More than one family member has said he 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, ‘O.K., what is next’?”
More opportunities came along, and he rarely said no. Among them were his French-Asian restaurant Vong, and Spice Market, which he and Mr. Suarez announced in 2006 that they were selling to Starwood Hotels & Resorts, for an amount Mr. Vongerichten would 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 in the Time Warner Center. It featured gold-leaf columns, velvet chairs and rhubarb ketchup. From that mistake came his first lesson: “Don’t try to reinvent the steakhouse. It’s an American staple.”
Another misstep was 66, an upscale Chinese restaurant he opened in TriBeCa in 2003. When speaking of it, his voice rises in frustration, unusual for him. He loved the food. But his fried rice with fresh crab meat went for $15, while four blocks away, in Chinatown, the same dish with canned crab meat was $3.50. Bad idea, he admits.
He reconceived the space, unsuccessfully, as a Japanese restaurant. Another lesson: “If I cannot do the food myself, don’t do it. I do not know how to use a wok. I cannot do sushi.”