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Le Bernardin didn’t earn three Michelin stars on its looks alone — although the decor is alluring enough for WWD to stage a shoot there. At the helm of the esteemed New York restaurant is chef and part-owner Eric Ripert, who this month added another achievement to his lengthy résumé: kitchen designer. In a collaboration with German cabinet manufacturer Poggenpohl, the eco-friendly kitchens for private residences, dubbed Ripert Kitchen for Poggenpohl, begin at $40,000. Here, the French chef chats about the new venture and more.
WWD: How did your project with Poggenpohl come about?
Eric Ripert: My kitchen on the [PBS] show “Avec Eric” is by Poggenpohl. When we were creating that kitchen, I was talking to them about the weaknesses I see in kitchen designers in general. You see beautiful, fancy designer kitchens in houses or apartments, but they’re very impractical. So I submitted to [Poggenpohl] the idea of creating obviously a beautiful kitchen but with the knowledge of a professional who knows how to design one that is ultraefficient.
WWD: What makes a kitchen impractical?
E.R.: In a professional kitchen, the idea is to have your cooks not moving much while they’re cooking. You want them to stay in the same spot. But if your knives are on the far right, the trash on the far left, your oven is far from your stove and your fridge is somewhere else — you’re not efficient. What we designed was a kitchen where whatever you use the most is close to you. And at the same time, we wanted to have an interactive kitchen. Where you cook, it’s open to the room. People can sit down on the other side and have a drink and interact with the chef.
WWD: Does the Ripert Kitchen have the same layout as the one on “Avec Eric?”
E.R.: Well, it’s the same principle, the same spirit, but on the show, we had to accommodate the cameras and lighting.
WWD: Do you watch other cooking shows?
E.R.: No, although I watch “No Reservations” from Anthony Bourdain. I watch Charlie Rose’s program, which is very interesting, every night. I have to DVR between David Letterman and Charlie Rose because they overlap a bit.
WWD: You’re a frequent judge on “Top Chef.” A few the show’s guest judges went on to compete on “Top Chef Masters.” Would you?
E.R.: No, because cooking for me, I need time. It’s a meditative experience. It’s about taking my time creating something and I don’t want to be rushed by the clock. I don’t want to run after a chicken to cut its head, you know? At least to me, it’s not appealing as a chef.
WWD: Does that influence your judging? Are you easier on the contestants knowing their constraints?
E.R.: No. When I go on “Top Chef” and judge their food, I judge solely on what I see on the plate and what I taste. I have no idea who’s the villain, who’s the nice person, who stole the pea purée.
WWD: Now that you’ve designed kitchens, would you ever consider your own men’s collection?
E.R.: My own line of clothing? That’s something I never thought about. I think it would be a catastrophe.
WWD: Which designers do you wear?
E.R.: I like very much Louis Vuitton. My wife loves it too. I like Prada. I like Armani. And then I also like brands like Steven Alan, for the shirts, and Billy Reid, which is more casual.
WWD: You were a guest speaker at the Vacheron Constantin talks two weeks ago, where you mentioned that you collect watches. Do you collect anything else?
E.R.: I am a Buddhist, therefore I should not be collecting anything — however, I have a collection of Buddhas. I have a lot of them. Not in the kitchen, but in the living room, in the bedroom, in the meditation room, in my office, everywhere. I am at the point where my wife says, “If you bring home another Buddha, we get divorced.” I am not allowed to have another one in the house.
WWD: Any guilty pleasures at all?
E.R.: I hear that only in America. A lot of foreign people say, when asking about eating habits, “What is your guilty pleasure?” I have no guilt. Whatever I do, I enjoy and it’s the point. I think if you start to feel guilty about it, that’s a problem. So, no guilty pleasures. I have pleasure and no guilt at all.