An Interview with Chef Eric Ripert

Chef Eric Ripert needs no introduction. A French native and world-renowned chef, Ripert is truly a master in the kitchen.  Just one visit to Manhattan’s Le Bernardin where Ripert is executive chef will turn you into a passionate and devoted fan. You may not need an entire meal — I was hooked after a few bites of my first course.

Chef Ripert has won many awards, published several books and made numerous television appearances, including his show Avec Eric on PBS. This February he’ll be participating in the Tribute Dinner honoring Daniel Boulud at the 2010 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

I had the opportunity to interview Chef Ripert and found out he’s just as passionate about enjoying good food as he is about creating it.

The Amateur Gastronomer: I have been a huge fan of yours since dining at Le Bernardin years ago and have really enjoyed watching Avec Eric. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!

Chef Eric Ripert: Thank you!

AG: What is the food experience or dish that inspired you to become a chef?

ER: Since a very young age I spent time in the kitchen with my mother and grandmothers. I always loved eating and thought about becoming a chef since I was a child.

AG: Do you have a favorite dish to cook for yourself and your family?

ER: Since I eat fish during the week at Le Bernardin, I love to cook steak for the family on the weekends.

AG: What are your favorite and/or must-have ingredients?

ER: A good set of sharp knives, fine sea salt and black truffles.

AG: What is your most expensive yet best value ingredient in your kitchen, either at home or in your restaurant?

ER: I would say Kobe beef. While it is a very expensive product, a small amount goes a long way and can be the foundation of a great meal.

AG: What seasonal ingredients do you most look forward to using over the next few months?

ER: I always enjoy the black truffle season. It’s probably my favorite seasonal ingredient, favorite ingredient, period.

AG: Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to food?

ER: I have no guilt! I eat everything in moderation. I love dark chocolate.

AG: What food could you eat forever and never get sick of? Is there any food that you detest?

ER: Black truffle — I could eat it forever. And I must admit, tofu I tend to detest.

AG: Great food deserves great wine. Do you have a favorite bottle, varietal or pairing?

ER: I drink only Bordeaux!

AG: I know you’re a fan of tequila. Do you have a favorite style or brand?

ER: Lately I’m really enjoying Casa Dragones, really wonderful for sipping.

AG: How has your business been affected by the economy?

ER:
No question, the economic slump has been rough on restaurants but back in January 2009 when things were quite bleak, my partner and I decided to announce that we would donate $1 to City Harvest (a local food rescue organization) for every guest who dined with us throughout the year. We wanted to combat all the negative news we kept hearing about and try to do something positive. We ended up very close to our goal of raising $100,000 during 2009.

AG: What do you see as being the new dining trends?

ER: I think interest in Asian food is continuing to grow and in particular Korean cuisine.

AG: How do you feel about the movement to eat more locally grown and produced foods?

ER: I think it is critical that we continue to move in this direction.

AG: Is American cooking and are American diners getting more sophisticated?

ER: Absolutely, I think the interest in food in our country is continuing to grow and I love that American diners are really willing to try many things and aren’t tied to one culinary tradition.

AG: What are the differences between American and French diners?

ER: I’d say French diners may be slightly more traditional than Americans. Americans are very adventurous and there is so much diversity in food here.

AG: How has your profession changed with the popularity of the Food Network and shows like Top Chef?

ER: TV coverage of food is great, it gets people talking about food and ingredients and I think can only be a good thing for our industry.

AG: What has it been like to go from chef to celebrity?

ER: I always say, it doesn’t help in the kitchen!

AG: What other chefs do you most respect? Whose restaurants would you always want to dine in?

ER: A tough question. The list is endless — I’m constantly inspired by what other chefs do and create.

AG: At the South Beach Wine & Food Festival you will be participating in the Tribute Dinner honoring Daniel Boulud. Why did you want to get involved?

ER: Daniel is an amazing chef and a dear friend. When I got the invitation to be a part of the celebration there was no question I’d be there!

AG: Do you have any favorite restaurants in Miami or South Florida?

ER: I love Casa Tua in South Beach for its great food and beautiful ambiance.

AG: Do you think you will consider opening a restaurant in South Florida?

ER:
You never know, but right now I’m really focusing my energies on Le Bernardin and the three restaurants we operate with the Ritz-Carlton (Westend Bistro in Washington, D.C., 10 Arts Bistro & Lounge in Philadelphia and Blue in the Grand Cayman Islands).

AG: What advice do you have for home cooks and aspiring chefs?

ER: For home cooks, I always suggest investing in good knives (a chef’s knife and a pairing knife as a basis), and good quality cookware. And try to work with the best quality ingredients you can. If you start with good product, you are more likely to end up with something good.

For aspiring chefs, I recommend spending some time in a professional kitchen and thinking very carefully about whether it’s a life you want to lead. It’s very demanding physically and mentally and you have to be ready for it.

AG: I cook often at home but want to make a special meal for my husband’s upcoming birthday. Do you have any advice on ingredients or dishes?

ER: There is a recipe in my latest cookbook, On the Line, which is I think is quite simple but very luxurious and delicious. We call it for shorthand “pasta caviar” — kind of like a carbonara pasta topped with caviar, perfect for a celebration.

AG: Avec Eric is a great show for anyone who enjoys traveling or good food. Are you planning another season?

ER: We are locking in details for season two now and we hope to travel to Japan, Louisiana and the Grand Cayman Islands.

AG: How do your travels affect your cooking?

ER: Travel is one of the ways I find inspiration. It is a very important part of my life and influences my cooking heavily.

AG: Where in the world would you like to travel to, where you haven’t already been?

ER: I would love to spend more time in Asia, maybe Vietnam, Thailand, Bhutan and Japan.

AG: What projects are you working on next?

ER: Continuing to evolve the menu at Le Bernardin and season two of Avec Eric.

AG: When you’re not working or cooking what do you enjoy to do?

ER: Smoke cigars!

Visit Chef Eric Ripert’s official site at aveceric.com.

For details on the 2010 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival visit sobefest.com.

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