Eric Ripert’s cookbooks are typically sophisticated, glossy and somewhat intimidating—not unlike the restaurant he runs, the critically esteemed Le Bernardin in New York. But with his latest tome, On the Line, Ripert lifts the curtain to reveal how perfection is achieved. It’s Bernardin behind the scenes: a reality show in 10-point type instead of eight-millimeter.
“We share with the reader how we motivate the staff,” Ripert says. “I don’t want to ignore what they do. Those guys deserve recognition.”
This story first appeared in the September 29, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Writer Christine Muhlke was given full access to Ripert and his staff of 140 to document how a four-star restaurant operates. “I didn’t want a romantic book where everything’s perfect, we all love each other,” says Ripert. “I never told the staff what to say, or what not to say. But then I read some of the interviews and it was like, f–k you, f–k them, f–k that. We erased the f–ks.”
Here, Ripert discusses why he brought his staff into the spotlight and his newfound hobby: blogging.
WWDScoop: How often are you actually working in the restaurant?
Eric Ripert: I’m here five days a week, but I take my four weeks’ vacation.
WWDScoop: So many of your peers are criticized for spending their time away from the kitchen.
E.R: I’m not judgmental of what they do, or don’t do. I’m used to the kitchen. It is obvious that I’m not peeling every carrot; I’m not cooking every morsel of fish on your plate. It’s a very naïve idea to think that the chef is cooking everything, and, on top of it, is irreplaceable. That would mean that basically he is the only genius, and there are idiots all around him, which doesn’t make sense.
WWDScoop: You must consider your current staff pretty remarkable to immortalize them like this.
E.R.: Those guys, the chefs and executive chef, executive sous chefs, they have 15, 16 years with us. The associate chef has been here 20 years—it’s longer than I’ve been here. We have a team that is passionate and motivated, qualified, obviously, and I just thought it was the right time.
WWDScoop: Since this is not a traditional cookbook, though there are a few recipes, how do you see it being used?
E.R.: It’s a documentary, so you can look at some information and be like, wow, they bought 600 pounds of lobster in one day. Or you can read an essay on the maître’d, or the rules that [co-founder] Maguy [Le Coze] has for the dining room….
WWDScoop: Yeah, those are pretty intense. No rattling pocket change, no pointing in the dining room….
E.R.: Actually I didn’t know they existed. I went to the guys and was like, “Did we make them up?” They were like, “No, I follow all of them.”
WWDScoop: The lease on Le Bernardin’s 55th Street location is up in 2011. Do you know what’s next?
E.R.: Right now I’m really not sure if Le Bernardin is going to go for 30 more years, or if we’re going to be like, well, that was it, and this is the end of the show. We have to decide as a team.
WWDScoop: Do you have any aspirations for the commercial side of the business?
E.R.: It’s tempting, obviously, to stay home, watch TV and sell pots at Macy’s. But if I was doing something, it would be something meaningful to me, and bringing something different to the consumer. I don’t know if you have seen our blog, aveceric.com. We basically in three minutes teach you how to use a toaster oven to cook anything.
WWDScoop: With videos?
E.R: I think anyone can cook fish at home. You’re going to be amazed by the results. It’s essentially one, two, three. No blender, no knowledge, just do it.
WWDScoop: What about your signature “egg” dessert [chocolate pots de crème with caramel foam, maple syrup and sea salt served in an egg shell]. Do you think home cooks will attempt that?
E.R.: The recipes are there, and they represent what we do. I’m sure some people will try it, and I’m sure some people will be like, “I’ll just go to Le Bernardin.”