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Food + Cooking

A Bite with Eric Ripert

Published in Gourmet Live 10.13.10
Le Bernardin’s award winning chef on dining with the Dalai Lama, small refrigerators, and eating brains
Eric Ripert

Last week was an unbeatable week for chef Eric Ripert and Le Bernardin. Not only did the chef’s flagship restaurant receive three Michelin stars, but it was also awarded a rare 29 food rating by Zagat. The duo of praises is an accomplishment not only for the establishment, but for the man who stands behind it. Eric Ripert spoke to Gourmet Live about his favorite meals, his least favorite foods and why less is more when it comes to fridge size.

Gourmet Live: Who taught you how to cook?

Eric Ripert: I started at an early age mingling in the kitchen of my grandmothers and mother but the real cooking started in the culinary school and it really got intense when I started at La Tour d’Argent and that was the beginning.

GL: What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

ER: I don’t think in black and white like that. [There’s] no such thing as an exclusive best meal ever, but I can tell you two weeks ago I had the most amazing grouse of my life at Restaurant Daniel. When I bit into it, it was just perfection.

GL: What’s the most underrated ingredient?

ER: The shallot. It’s a cousin of the onion, however much more refined, less sweet, less water and very often used by professional chefs to enhance sauce. Shallots themselves as a plain vegetable are very good glazed. You know how you glaze cioppino onions? You can do the same with shallots.

GL: What’s your guilty food pleasure?

ER: I don’t have a guilty pleasure. I eat whatever I want and whenever I want. Although I must admit by nature I’m moderate.

GL: Which food do you like the least?

ER: I don’t like brains and I’m not too keen on calf liver. I cannot explain what it is about brains. It’s not like I’m scared, but I just have a vivid memory—probably one of my only memories from when I was under 5 years old — but my parents fed me brains because at that time they thought that they’d supposedly make you smarter. And I remember taking the brain in my spoon and playing with it like a catapult. I just don’t like the texture. And calf liver tends to have a very metallic flavor, which I also don’t like.

GL: What’s your favorite location for food?

ER: No such thing. Each time I am traveling I find something interesting, even in the most remote or rustic parts of the world. I’m wandering more than searching and I let these things happen. For instance, when I’m in Japan, because it’s a very intricate city, I take a local to help me get to some of the places because a lot of restaurants are hidden and hard to find.

GL: If you could dine with anyone, who would you pick?

ER: His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I already cooked for him. Now, if I could dine with him it would be my next reward.

GL: What 10 ingredients are always in your fridge?

ER: Honestly I don’t think I have 10 ingredients in my fridge, but I always have butter, yogurt and marmalade. We buy for the day and almost nothing goes into the fridge. I like to buy the right amount of food so there’s no waste. I just bought an apartment and it came with a very big fridge, but I gave it back to the building and asked for a smaller one because I don’t want to store a lot of things. I want to eat fresh, so really, the fridge is empty.

GL: What 5 ingredients are always on your shopping list?

ER: Shopping or not, I make sure that I always have salt, pepper, olive oil, butter and Herbes de Provence.

GL: How would you describe the perfect dinner party?

ER: When the host and guests are equally having fun. When the food and wines are delicious and ultimately at the end of the night everyone has a smile on their face. I think it’s always important to have a mix of things you can share. And very often when I throw a party, I break the ice by having drinks and intermezzos to share. Or I mix guacamole and everyone is dipping, so everyone’s sharing. And when we sit down, I plate individually.

GL: What’s your favorite restaurant?

ER: I don’t have one, but I have many that I visit frequently and depending on the experience I am seeking, I go to fun restaurants like Balthazar in New York, to Serafina Pizza and of course, I visit upscale places like Jean-Georges, Daniel and the usual suspects.