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Eric Ripert Leaves Another Hotel Restaurant

Eric Ripert Leaves Another Hotel Restaurant

He tells Philly.com that his New York project needs more of his time

So, Eric Ripert's secretive New York project looks like it's going to be big; the chef has cut ties with yet another hotel restaurant (the first being Westend Bistro in the Ritz Carlton in Washington, D.C.) to focus on his New York agenda.

Ripert announced today that he will be ending his partnership with 10 Arts at the end of 2012, leaving sous chef Nathan Volz in charge of the restaurant at Philadelphia's Ritz-Carlton. Philly.com reports that Miguel Hernandez, the assistant food-and-beverage director at the Ritz-Carlton, will manage the dining room.

Ripert's New York project, which he hinted about in the Westend Bistro departure announcement, will reportedly be affiliated with Le Bernardin, Philly.com says. In an interview with the Washington Post, however, Ripert said, "There will always be only one Le Bernardin."

In the meantime, Eater casts light on the fact that Ripert will only have one hotel restaurant left come January: Blue, at the Cayman Islands Ritz-Carlton. Ripert’s representatives tell us he won’t be leaving that restaurant anytime soon; the chef simply decided it was time to move on from the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. restaurants.


“Our Movie Star”: Eric Ripert

&ldquoI hear he&rsquos in tonight. Can you have him come by?&rdquo

The blonde at the end of the bar says this as if she were ordering a splash of a new wine to try. As if, in other words, it were not a special request but simply business as usual at Westend Bistro. There&rsquos not a trace of worry in her glittering eyes that the bartender will think she and her two friends are being the least bit pushy or starstruck for asking Eric Ripert to come out and say hi. To say hi&mdashthat&rsquos all. Enough time for them to hear the French accent, as thick and exotic as a foreign film star&rsquos. Enough time to gaze upon the bedroom eyes, the dazzlingly white smile, the pouty, Jaggeresque lips.

The bartender smiles mischievously, uncorking a bottle of wine as the woman makes her pitch.

But seriously, she says, leaning across the bar, curling a weft of shellacked blond hair behind her ear. Hasn&rsquot the expectation that they be allowed to see him been embedded in the very name of the restaurant&mdashWestend Bistro by Eric Ripert? Come on: a restaurant with a byline. More than just a mere place to eat&mdasha serious statement, an important tome. And, well, they&rsquove paged through much of it: the fish burger and the rillettes and the miniature pâtés en croûte and the seafood stew. Now they want to meet the author.

The bartender doesn&rsquot need convincing, but he takes a kind of pleasure in stretching the moment out to see just how far she&rsquoll go.

Far. Her eyes are big and imploring. Pleeeeease.

&ldquoGimme a sec,&rdquo he says, retreating to the kitchen.

She may be more up-front about her needs, but he knows she&rsquos not the only one in here tonight who has those needs. Ripert creates those needs. His charm and magnetism coupled with his culinary bona fides&mdashthree stars from the Michelin Guide, four from the New York Times&mdashreduced the otherwise unflappable Martha Stewart to a girlish flirt on national TV. And they sent shivers up and down the spines of foodies last year when the idea of Westend Bistro was announced.

The last time the city had been seized by anything like it was when Ripert was last in town, when his mentor, the flamboyant master chef Jean-Louis Palladin, ruled at the Watergate. Robert Wiedmaier plastered his own name on the door of his new bistro, but for many diners his face remains a mystery. Café du Parc has a consulting three-star Michelin chef, but who can identify Antoine Westermann? Michel Richard owns this town, but who goes limp at the prospect of spending a few moments in his jolly, Santalike presence?

The bartender swings by the pass, where dishes are arrayed across the surface for waiters to deliver to tables and where Ripert is standing, talking with the cooks. &ldquoWould you mind?&rdquo the bartender asks.

Ripert drops what he&rsquos doing, stops watching over the preparation of some tiny rounds of puff pastry. Mind? It&rsquos like asking a runway model if she minds walking down the runway. He knows that this is the calculus these days, that running a big-name restaurant isn&rsquot about just serving good food&mdashthat you must be a multimedia presence, that celebrity and buzz are as important as knowing how to reduce a stock or wrap a loin of rabbit in caul fat or any of the other technical tasks that being a big-time chef used to involve.

Also, that just one restaurant will no longer do. For years, Ripert&rsquos multimedia presence meant cookbooks, public appearances, guest spots on TV, and running his flagship, Le Bernardin, hailed by GQ restaurant critic Alan Richman as &ldquothe greatest restaurant in America.&rdquo Whereas some other chefs expressed their manifest destiny by spinning off satellite operations across the country, Ripert lay comparatively low, biding his time, enlarging his restaurant&rsquos infrastructure, and extending its culinary mission.

A couple of years ago, he struck up a licensing agreement with the Ritz-Carlton and opened Blue in Grand Cayman, followed by DC&rsquos Westend at the end of last year. Another bistro is planned for Philadelphia this year.

&ldquoToday chefs have to have restaurants everywhere,&rdquo he says. In other words, if a high-profile chef means to retain his reputation, he has to build an&mdashno, he won&rsquot say &ldquoempire.&rdquo Expand too much and a chef risks diminishing his name that was the lesson of Todd English, with his 13 restaurants scattered across the country like a child&rsquos toys in the living room.

From the kitchen, the bartender leads Ripert to the end of the bar, running interference like a handler leading a celebrity through a crowd. Heads swivel. His chef&rsquos jacket is sharp and white and pressed, his chiseled features pop, his silvery hair is perfect. He exudes the glamorous unreality of a big-time politician or celebrity. The sommelier lights up as Ripert brushes past. &ldquoOur movie star!&rdquo he says.

The blonde beams: &ldquoEric, such a pleasure to meet you.&rdquo

He extends a hand: &ldquoPleasure.&rdquo

It&rsquos as if there&rsquos an invisible spotlight shining down on them. The customers waiting to be seated, including a congressman and his wife, turn toward the end of the bar. The white chef&rsquos jacket is like a mirror, picking up the soft light in the room and refracting it, making it brighter, whiter.

The man sitting to her left says: &ldquoChef, Le Bernardin&mdashbest meal of my life.&rdquo

&ldquoThose little croque-monsieur things&mdashohhh!&rdquo

The man sitting to his left pipes up: &ldquoHey, chef&mdashyou were great on Top Chef!&rdquo

The fan of the little croque-monsieur things is seized by an idea: &ldquoYou need to get your own show, chef!&rdquo

Ripert considers this as if it had never occurred to him, as if celebrity were something new, as if he weren&rsquot a three-star Michelin chef but an eager-eyed kitchen recruit. &ldquoSomeday,&rdquo he says, &ldquomaybe.&rdquo

It&rsquos time to move on: A glass of 1985 Château Eglise Clinet with a doctor and his wife awaits him, followed by some face time with Simon Cooper, president and chief operating officer of the Ritz. But before he goes, bowing like an actor at the final curtain, he asks: &ldquoEverything okay with the food?&rdquo As if all of this&mdashthe head swiveling, the beaming, the buzz in the dining room&mdashhas to do with the food.

Seeing Ripert work the room, you can easily forget that he&rsquos not here every night&mdashor even most nights.

That he isn&rsquot the one doing the cooking.

That among the various hats he wears as the force behind Ripert Consulting&mdashpresident, publicist, marketing mastermind, celebrity spokesmodel&mdashthe chef&rsquos toque is probably the least of them.

Westend wants you to think that every night will be like this night, when the possibility of being bathed in the aura of his celebrity is as near at hand as a great plate of veal cheeks. The bait and switch of celebrity-chef restaurants: bait you with the promise of star power, of seeing the big-name chef in the gleaming, open kitchen. Then the switch&mdashslipping you competence when you&rsquore seeking brilliance and forcing you to live instead with the reliability of the star&rsquos underlings.

Many of these outposts of empire are successful, in the sense of making piles of money. That&rsquos why they continue to spread like kudzu, why TV stars like Emeril and Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck have become brands&mdashtheir names, in the restaurant world, possessing the power of Microsoft or Google. But how many of these spinoffs rise above their intentions to become memorable? The more time you spend eating in these places, the more likely you are to yield to the suspicion that haute cuisine has become homogenized, the notion of the chef as cook supplanted by the notion of the chef as CEO.

Westend&rsquos gleaming dining room doesn&rsquot look like a classic bistro, and the food coming out of the kitchen fuses simple rusticity with a polished elegance.
Photograph by Stacy Zarin-Goldberg

This is, of course, the cynical view.

Ruth Reichl, memoirist, editor of Gourmet, and former New York Times restaurant critic, gently chastises me: &ldquoI think there&rsquos no denying that the minute a chef becomes big business, the quality changes. You can feel it. And I think we&rsquore only seeing the beginning of it. As we&rsquove seen the consolidation of everything else, more and more chains are going to be driving out the chance for smaller, more personal expression.&rdquo

But corporate, she suggests, doesn&rsquot have to be synonymous with compromise: &ldquoYou talk about a corporate chef&mdashthere&rsquos nobody more corporate than Daniel Boulud,&rdquo the chef/restaurateur who runs Daniel, DB Bistro Moderne, and Café Boulud, three of the best restaurants in New York. &ldquoAnd how many chefs in the country are as great as Daniel Boulud?&rdquo

By way of illuminating the way a first-rate restaurant works&mdashreally works&mdashshe tells a story: Three decades ago, the legendary chef Paul Bocuse was asked who was doing the cooking that night at his Lyon restaurant while he was in Tokyo checking up on a spinoff. &ldquoWho&rsquos cooking?&rdquo he replied. &ldquoThe same person who cooks in my restaurant when I&rsquom in Lyon.&rdquo

&ldquoThe job at this level, at Eric&rsquos level, at Bocuse&rsquos level,&rdquo says Reichl, &ldquois not to cook. It&rsquos to make sure the people who are doing the cooking are doing their job. I think that that&rsquos upsetting to a lot of people. But it&rsquos a reality of modern life. Most of our great chefs all over the world want to be gazillionaires. How can you blame them?

&ldquoAnd let&rsquos face it: What Eric is doing isn&rsquot exactly &lsquoempire.&rsquo He&rsquos just now beginning to expand a little. Here you have the most charming, the most handsome man on earth. And guys who aren&rsquot nearly as charming or handsome as he have gone on to open places all over the country or all over the world and overextend themselves. And the frozen foods and the cookware and on and on and on. He could have he didn&rsquot. I think it&rsquos admirable.&rdquo

Michael Ruhlman&mdashan author who worked with Ripert on A Return to Cooking, a 2002 book whose title appeared to acknowledge the degree to which the chef had evolved away from the kitchen&mdashfinds it admirable, too.

&ldquoHe&rsquos found a way to expand that he&rsquos comfortable with,&rdquo Ruhlman says. &ldquoI think he&rsquos very, very smart that way. What Eric has done, what a number of chef CEOs have done, is to take the muscle they developed to be a chef&mdashthe extraordinary organizational ability, the ability to handle long hours, the indisputable work ethic&mdashand apply that to the business side. I think that, more than most, Eric has a firm grasp of the two sides.&rdquo

Business and art, surface and substance. I come to learn that with Ripert, seeming opposites are, if not quite reconciled, somehow not in conflict.

A self-described &ldquosaucier in my heart no matter what else I do,&rdquo he can speak passionately about the craft of cooking, then describe Le Bernardin as a &ldquoproduct,&rdquo comparable to a luxury handbag from one of his favorite designers, Louis Vuitton. A Buddhist who keeps a picture of the Dalai Lama on his phone and miniature Buddha figurines in his pocket for strength and peace, he maintains an apartment on Manhattan&rsquos Upper East Side and a second home in the Hamptons. He is charming he is calculating. He is freewheeling he is obsessive.

Part of the calculation, the shrewd deployment of charm, had been to invite me to observe &ldquothe making of a restaurant.&rdquo This was last August, months before Westend was to open. What I was curious about was how Ripert, so fanatical about detail at Le Bernardin, planned on running a restaurant in absentia.

Not calling it Le Bernardin II&mdashcalling it a bistro&mdashwas a way of lowering expectations, releasing him and his team from the burden of striving for perfection with every single plate. His business partner, the sexy and indomitable Maguy Le Coze, was adamant about not trying to replicate their piscatory palace. &ldquoYou can&rsquot do Le Bernardin anywhere else,&rdquo she said. &ldquoYou can&rsquot do it. It&rsquos a New York restaurant.&rdquo

But if DC diners wouldn&rsquot be expecting a four-star experience, they&rsquod be expecting something very near to it. And why not? A casual restaurant from a brilliant chef ought to be casually brilliant.

Was it possible to run a really good restaurant by means of cell phone, e-mail, and text message? Sending down a team of subordinates from New York to DC to execute his vision and swooping in a couple of times a month to make sure they stick to the plan?

I get my first glimpse of how things will work, of the apparatus that&rsquos in place to make it work, in my e-mail exchanges with a woman named Mandy Oser.

Oser is Ripert&rsquos right hand, with one of those euphemistic titles straight out of the corporate world: director of strategic partnerships. She used to work on Capitol Hill, and even in e-mail she displays the fierce competence of someone who knows how to get things done.

Through Oser I learned that Ripert employs two PR firms full-time, one in New York, one in Los Angeles. In DC, he had retained the part-time services of another.

During the months I spend reporting and writing this article, three different publicists will keep tabs on my progress.

I tell Oser I&rsquom interested in driving up to New York to see how the kitchen operates, to understand how its elegant, fine-dining vision might be translated to a smaller, more casual restaurant. If Westend Bistro is to be run essentially from Le Bernardin, then I need to see Le Bernardin.

I do see. But first my wife and I are ushered one night to table ten&mdashthe best in the house&mdashand lavished with a stunning, multicourse feast, a kind of command performance meant to show the dexterity, technical facility, and imagination required of a restaurant that aspires to be considered the best of the best. The service is so pampering, it&rsquos almost comical. Each time my wife and I pass plates to each other, we&rsquore given new forks and knives, the better to keep the clean, focused flavors of each dish clean and focused.

It&rsquos one of the great meals of my life. It&rsquos also a clever bit of bait and switch: Expecting to be made privy to the mechanics of the business, I am instead treated to a show.

The next day, still besotted with food and drink, I&rsquom permitted to see the rigging.

One floor below Le Bernardin, below the fantasy of privilege and splendor that a four-star restaurant exudes, I find Ripert sitting in his basement office, part of a drab complex of many smaller offices. The fluorescent lights, the cubicles, the computers, the employees at their desks&mdashin its gray efficiency it could pass for a telemarketing outfit.

The offices remind me of Hemingway&rsquos dictum about great writing: It&rsquos what isn&rsquot expressed, made visible, that counts it&rsquos the mass of ice below the surface.

There are 140 employees who work for Ripert, either at Le Bernardin&mdasha restaurant whose main dining room seats 100&mdashor through Ripert Consulting. Forty of them belong to the kitchen. So what do the other hundred do? Twelve never pick up a pan their work is administrative&mdashdealing with customers&rsquo requests and complaints, managing the restaurant&rsquos private-room business, and taking reservations. This last task is so crucial to Le Bernardin&rsquos success that two employees are assigned headsets to wear throughout the day, taking calls four take calls when things are really busy. The restaurant receives, on average, 500 calls a day.

The &ldquoreservationists&rdquo field calls from a cubicle just off the &ldquowar room,&rdquo a conference room with dry-erase boards on which the menu for Westend has been scrawled, where Ripert and his inner circle&mdashincluding his former sous chef Michelle Lindsay and former saucier Soa Davies, who now work for Ripert Consulting&mdashmeet to talk strategy and product development.

Full-time reservationists, Ripert says as he walks me through the operation, are a necessity. He wants them kept separate from the dining room with its endless interruptions. &ldquoYou cannot rush the client,&rdquo he says. &ldquoThis is a luxury product. You cannot keep people waiting.&rdquo

A modest detail, but upon dozens and dozens of just such modest details are great restaurants made, says Ruth Reichl, who calls Le Bernardin &ldquothe best-run place I&rsquove ever encountered&mdashall the way through.&rdquo

She credits Ripert for thinking beyond the kitchen, for understanding that a restaurant is a kind of theater: &ldquoYou cannot pierce the fourth wall. You have to keep it live. It must be magic. True luxury in today&rsquos world is defined as something money can&rsquot buy. True luxury has become an experience. And that&rsquos what restaurants at this level aim to give&mdashsomething that&rsquos beyond price. And Le Bernardin does that. And one reason it does that, one reason it&rsquos able to do that, is it&rsquos very disciplined&mdasha sign it has not changed after everything that came its way, all the success. With a great restaurant, you&rsquore really looking for perfection at every level. It&rsquos not just good food and good wine. What do you do if someone faints at the table? What do you do if two celebrities want the same table? All these things have been thought through, and everyone&rsquos been drilled.&rdquo

The discipline and order are evident in a clearly delineated hierarchy.

During staff meals, the sommelier and general manager and maître d&rsquo all eat upstairs in the loft while the waitstaff and runners eat downstairs in the cafeteria. The same goes for the kitchen staff: chef de cuisine and sous chefs upstairs, cooks downstairs. The perks are made conspicuous&mdashcarrots intended to encourage the underlings to work hard and climb the corporate and culinary ladders.

Ripert displays a light touch as he makes his rounds in the kitchen, taste-testing sauces, pinching the rolls to see if they&rsquore fresh.

&ldquoHow&rsquos it going?&rdquo he asks, smiling as he greets the cooks prepping fish. He swings by the saucier station, digging a plastic spoon into the different stocks to taste, then another into the sauces. &ldquoCan I have a piece of calamari?&rdquo he asks one of the cooks, sampling a dish in his head that has yet to be assembled on the plate. No trace of presumption in his tone that his need ought to have been anticipated&mdashfar from the kitchen ballistics of TV&rsquos Gordon Ramsay, the cliché image of the tortured genius many still associate with a great chef. Ripert banters with the dishwasher in Spanish&mdash&ldquoHey, cuántos años aqui?&rdquo How many years here?

He seems not to notice that the younger staffers appear to be petrified in his presence. Or that, just by his being here, the mood of the kitchen has changed&mdashthe bustle of people who realize they&rsquore being watched.

In fact, they&rsquore being watched even when he&rsquos not here. On my way from the kitchen to the business offices, I spot a tiny device in the corner of a wall&mdasha camera, one of 24 that have been stationed throughout the operation. Equipped with tape recorders for playback, the cameras operate 24 hours a day, monitoring the work of the morning crew that comes to prep the food and of the late-night crew that closes up the restaurant.

Ripert describes the cameras as a means of quality control, not surveillance. When he&rsquos consulting in the Caymans or DC or Philadelphia, he says, he can punch up a screen split into 24 different boxes, each depicting what&rsquos happening at Le Bernardin. Weeks earlier, he was able to catch a busboy at the end of the night tossing dessert plates into the trash as he scraped them. Voilà!&mdashfired.

Consistency, he says, is the only way you can maintain your standards from year to year, month to month, day to day, hour to hour.

Left unsaid is the fact that the job of quality control used to fall to the executive chef himself, who never used to leave the building.

Critics have remarked on the evolution of Le Bernardin&rsquos cuisine since Ripert assumed control of the kitchen in 1994, after the sudden death of Maguy Le Coze&rsquos brother, Gilbert Le Coze. Though nominally French, the cooking now embraces the flavors of India, the Caribbean, South America, and the Pacific Rim. What prompted the change away from an old-guard French restaurant to a more globally influenced one?

A number of theories: the arrival of Alain Ducasse, of Thomas Keller&rsquos Per Se, of places that put an emphasis on innovation and exceptional freshness of ingredients. Also the emergence of a new dining culture&mdashyounger, more adventurous, more easily jaded. They pushed Ripert. And he responded.

Ripert is frank, laying bare the foundation of the operation like a political operative who shares his position papers as a way of scoring points for his vision. The restaurant&rsquos clientele, though adoring, was aging. &ldquoThe people who first came to Le Bernardin,&rdquo he says, &ldquothey came when they were in their forties and fifties. Now it&rsquos 20 years later they&rsquore in their sixties and seventies.&rdquo

He wasn&rsquot in favor of radical change, of change for change&rsquos sake. The restaurant had to remain true to its philosophy, to the purity of intent on the plate. But the decision to court a younger audience was deliberate.

His decision to pilot a new course, he says, has proved correct: &ldquoOur product today is a young product. You have to stay young if you want to stay in business and stay relevant. I kind of like to compare us to Hermès&mdashkind of a timeless quality. But with a great energy and dynamism to it, too. And the only way you have that is if you have a great system, a great structure.&rdquo

&ldquoSystem&rdquo and &ldquostructure&rdquo are big Ripert words, invoked far more often than &ldquosauté&rdquo and &ldquosimmer.&rdquo The kitchen, for Ripert, is the ultimate system.

At Le Bernardin, the kitchen is such an efficient, regimented mechanism that he doesn&rsquot have to be around 24/7. To uphold standards and enforce discipline, he relies on his trusted advisers, perhaps none more so than Eric Gestel, who functions as a kind of chief of staff. The Martinique-born Gestel worked with Ripert at Jamin in Paris, under Joël Robuchon. It cemented their bond to have endured the famously abusive master chef. That was more than 20 years ago they&rsquove worked together at Le Bernardin for the last 15. Ripert calls the slightly built, bespectacled Gestel &ldquoCoco,&rdquo and wherever Ripert travels, Gestel isn&rsquot far behind&mdasha shadow chef, a doppelgänger.

Ripert and I find him at the pass, in the midst of the lunch rush. He&rsquos &ldquohelping&rdquo Chris Muller, Ripert&rsquos chef de cuisine, who is overseeing lunch. Gestel calls out instructions, expedites dishes&mdashin short, plays the role that most people associate with Ripert. Gestel commands authority: &ldquoIn the kitchen, they know that I know what he wants.&rdquo

Le Bernardin, Gestel says, was a &ldquototally different&rdquo restaurant when his boss took over.

He smiles. &ldquoThere were only two sous chefs when I arrived.&rdquo

For the sake of comparison: Michel Richard&rsquos Citronelle operates with one sous chef Le Bernardin today has five. At every kitchen station, from stocks to salads to sauces, there are multiple employees doing the same job, the better to ensure continuity and consistency. Ripert credits Wolfgang Puck, a man he scarcely knows, with teaching him an important lesson: &ldquoHe&rsquos an amazing influence on me without even knowing it. An inspiration. The fact he&rsquos able to duplicate and keep quality means he has a great structure.&rdquo

For Ripert, the lesson of corporate hierarchy comes down to this: &ldquoYou have to have a backup for everybody important on your staff.&rdquo

He&rsquos distracted by a buzzing in his pocket. He pulls his phone from his jeans it&rsquos Oser texting from downstairs, reminding him it&rsquos time for his next appointment, a meeting to discuss business with his financial advisers.

&ldquoIf you have a backup for everybody,&rdquo Ripert says, &ldquoyou never have to say, &lsquoI lost my chef. Now what am I gonna do?&rsquo &rdquo

Having a replacement ready for every key player, while meant to reassure the CEO, is a powerful psychological tool. As any athlete on a team with a strong bench is aware, no starter can ever feel too complacent knowing the coach thinks the sub is just as good at doing the same job.

&ldquoWhat Eric did is he built this very complex structure,&rdquo says Gestel, taking over my tour of the kitchen as the boss takes a meeting. What he has, beyond a clearly articulated vision for the cuisine, is &ldquoan amazing ability to put the right person in the right place. Eric is much more flexible in his vision than other European chefs.&rdquo

Oser, with her Hill background, runs things administratively. Soa Davies, a former Le Bernardin saucier with degrees in studio arts and marketing from New York University, puts some of her creativity to use overseeing recipe development.

Then there&rsquos Michelle Lindsay, a former Le Bernardin sous chef who is the lead consultant on the Westend project. Lindsay, blond and spiky-haired, doesn&rsquot look like a hardened restaurant vet she looks like a third-year art student. But she exudes the competitive fire of an elite athlete in the kitchen. She likens her role in DC to that of a chinois&mdasha fine-mesh strainer that big-time kitchens use to produce smooth, elegant soups.

Officially, it&rsquos her job to keep in contact with the kitchen at Westend, with VIPs, to monitor and respond to complaints. It&rsquos also her job to keep watch over Leo Marino, the former Le Bernardin sous chef Ripert installed as the chef at Westend. Marino has authority over his hand-picked team of assistants. But Lindsay has authority over Marino.

&ldquoLeo,&rdquo Gestel explains by way of clarifying the organizational hierarchy for the restaurant, &ldquoexecutes the dishes that she creates.&rdquo Five to six times a day when she&rsquos not in DC, she calls to check up on the DC kitchen and report back, to make sure it functions the way Ripert wants it to.

And the dishes Lindsay creates? Who vets and edits those?

Those are tested and retested in New York. That goes for all the recipes that go onto the menu at Le Bernardin, too. Lindsay works together with Davies, concocting dishes that they think Ripert will like, that express the house style&mdashin the case of Westend Bistro, a kind of elegant rusticity. Ripert tastes the dishes they come up with, offers commentary, in some cases suggests new directions to try. Some dishes pass muster. Many fail. At which point Lindsay and Davies go back to the drawing board. And the process begins again.

I tell Gestel it sounds almost corporate, the product testing, the careful chain of command. He smiles. At Le Bernardin, that&rsquos a compliment.

Westend is still months from its DC launch, not much more than a plan on a dry-erase board, when I fly to Grand Cayman to see Ripert&rsquos restaurant Blue. It was the first in his licensing agreement with the Ritz, which dominates the scraggly landscape like a colossus, an incongruous presence in an isolated patch of earth. He&rsquos staying at the hotel to host Caribbean Rundown With Eric Ripert, the island&rsquos first food festival.

No sooner do my wife and I step through customs into the sweltering night than we find a chaffeur-driven Mercedes waiting with bottles of water and chilled, lemon-scented towels in the back seat to revive us. A three-tiered platter of sweets, fruits, and finger sandwiches has been left in our oceanfront suite. Natasha, one of several Ritz employees assigned to look after us, volunteers to press any articles of clothing that may have been wrinkled from the flight.

It&rsquos hard to complain&mdasha suite overlooking the Caribbean, doting service&mdashbut I begin to feel guilty amid all the plenty, to suspect that I&rsquom being obliged to follow a script of someone else&rsquos devising. Deciding to forgo the food festival&rsquos opening-night reception in favor of dinner at Blue, my wife and I make it halfway to the restaurant when we run into Ripert. By accident? I begin to think of the cameras at Le Bernardin.

He ushers us downstairs to a table for a drink. We talk cooking, the festival, astrology (&ldquoMercury is no longer in retrograde,&rdquo he tells us). At last, having filibustered enough time for the kitchen to prepare, he has us seated for dinner.

The meal is fine, with a number of excellent moments, including a sublime dish of prawns in moquecas, a coconut-based sauce. Perfect it&rsquos not. Which is to say Le Bernardin it&rsquos not. The cooking aims for exquisite and frequently finds its mark. But when it misses, it makes me that much more aware of the gap between very good and great.

The kitchen, though it was tipped off to a designated eater, is unable to avoid several lapses, including an awkward lag of 25 minutes between courses. I&rsquom directly responsible for the most egregious lapse.

I asked for the pork belly, which shouldn&rsquot have been an unusual request, except that pork belly isn&rsquot an option on the tasting menu, which is what was ordered for me. Our waiter was initially flustered by my going off book, but he recovered smoothly, making up for his facial uh-oh with a fusillade of superlatives&mdash&ldquowonderful,&rdquo &ldquogreat&rdquo&mdashfor the pork belly.

It&rsquos neither. It&rsquos overcooked. Where the meat ought to be luscious and the fatty top layer firm and crisp, it&rsquos tough and dry, almost like a jerky that&rsquos been pulled from a braise.

Ripert is quick to apologize when we meet up the next morning in a conference room of the hotel, where he&rsquos setting up to do a cooking demo. &ldquoWe f&mdashed up,&rdquo he says.

It&rsquos like one of those crushing handshakes that leaves your fingers limp, unable to get a purchase. I don&rsquot know how to respond.

What the pork-belly mishap illustrates, he begins, is the &ldquochallenge&rdquo of running a restaurant from afar.

So frank, so unexpected. But he doesn&rsquot stop there. He takes this acceptance of personal responsibility a step further. Feel free, he says, to &ldquoinclude that in your piece.&rdquo

Richard Brower, who commands the kitchen at Blue, comes by and apologizes a few minutes later.

It&rsquos at this point my brain goes into rewind. I&rsquom thinking about a scrap of paper near his phone that I stumbled upon one day at Le Bernardin when he was upstairs in a meeting and I was chatting with Oser&mdashexhortations of a media coach he hired to keep his client on message:

It&rsquos YOUR interview / ownership

Response instead of an answer

Conclusion first / accentuate the positive

Wouldn&rsquot you know it? He&rsquod accomplished all three.

That night, after an early-evening soak in the Caribbean, accompanied by a Cuban cigar as long as a tapered candle, he&rsquos back at Blue, in his chef&rsquos whites, for a $600-a-person dinner he&rsquos hosting for ten of the restaurant&rsquos most valued customers. My wife and I have been invited, gratis, at the last minute.

Gotten up as we are in our best clothing, perfumed and carefully groomed, we cannot be more out of place among the other couples, jet-setting investment bankers and their wives, whose assets are as conspicuous as their husbands&rsquo are not. The talk around the table, a makeshift arrangement in a far corner of the kitchen, is of fifth homes, Tuscan villas, five-star Peruvian resorts.

The meal is spectacular. Nine courses&mdashprepared by 11 cooks, including Ripert, Brower, Davies, and Gestel&mdashfor 12 people. The fish and seafood are unimpeachably fresh, the saucing elegant, the wines excellent. The menu unspools with imagination and surprise. A triumphal performance.

Except that it only serves to underscore the pitfalls of expansion: Perfection is within reach so long as Ripert is near at hand.

At Westend, the air of mystery and celebrity that attends Ripert in the dining room does not follow him back into the kitchen. The kitchen is a place of work, of action under pressure. Gods are burdensome.

To go from the dining room of Westend to the kitchen, as he does now, winding through the adoring crowd at the bar, is to go from the stage, aglow with magic and possibility, to backstage, with its army of stagehands running around.

Ripert plucks a cornichon off a plate of pâté, tastes, nods. A tray of puff pastries for the cornichons has just come out of the oven the bottoms aren&rsquot lifting off easily.

&ldquoGet them off.&rdquo They&rsquore dumped into the trash.

He samples the whipped potatoes that go with the veal cheeks: &ldquoNeeds more potato.&rdquo Last night, he says, he tried the dish and thought the portion was too small.

His eye falls on the tuna carpaccio it&rsquos glistening. &ldquoToo oily,&rdquo he tells the prep cook. He takes the plate and tilts it the olive oil drips off the edge. &ldquoLook at that.&rdquo

The goat cheese is &ldquorunny,&rdquo the burgers are poorly shaped, and the veal cheeks are emblematic of an ongoing communication problem. The kitchen staff changed suppliers, Lindsay tells him: &ldquoThat&rsquos a big no-no.&rdquo

She allows that it&rsquos &ldquoa great product,&rdquo but that&rsquos not the point. It&rsquos the principle of it. No deviations. Otherwise, how is Ripert Consulting to keep things orderly and consistent?

The problem, Lindsay says, is that this kind of thing, this veering from script, &ldquohappens once every other day.&rdquo

Lindsay&rsquos job is to keep watch over the kitchen, typically the responsibility of the chef. But she isn&rsquot the chef. &ldquoI have to be extra diplomatic,&rdquo she says. &ldquoBut I still have to do my job. If I see something wrong, I&rsquom gonna say it.&rdquo

Something wrong, right now, includes the desserts. The blueberry cobbler is coming out sloppy, its drizzles of berry sauce looking more like blobs than artful dabs. Given the precision of the appetizers and entrées, the effect is jarring, as if the sweets were coming from a different kitchen. Ripert tells Lindsay, &ldquoWe have to talk to Michael&rdquo&mdashLe Bernardin pastry chef Michael Laiskonis&mdash&ldquotomorrow on the phone.&rdquo

Lindsay offers to &ldquorevisit the photos&rdquo&mdashpictures of what each dish is supposed to look like&mdashwith the pastry staff.

I ask Ripert how bad the problem is.

&ldquoIt&rsquos bad enough to rework them,&rdquo he says, &ldquobut not bad enough to put a stop to them.&rdquo

Staring at two poorly executed desserts about to be sent out into the dining room, Ripert&mdashhis hands buried in his designer jeans&mdashfingers two small icons. In one pocket, Ganesh. In the other, Buddha.

&ldquoFifteen years ago, you wouldn&rsquot have been able to stand it. I was a nut case. Throwing plates at the guys.&rdquo

He squeezes Ganesh, squeezes Buddha, arrives at a decision. He pulls aside Marino: &ldquoTomorrow let&rsquos see the production of that. Write it down, everything&mdashfrom the beginning.&rdquo

He has Marino share the second part of that decision with the kitchen staff. It&rsquos Marino&rsquos kitchen, and Ripert&mdashmindful of the importance of delegating and giving people the room to do their jobs&mdashallows his chef to run his own show. But the announcement&mdash&ldquoFrom now on, Chef Ripert wants us to bring the desserts around to the front of the pass. Okay? Spread the word&rdquo&mdashonly serves to reinforce whose show it really is.

Marino seems to reinforce it, too. &ldquoI don&rsquot know anything about Buddha,&rdquo he says. &ldquoI just know I need some more Zen in my life.&rdquo

For all of these food problems, Ripert says he isn&rsquot troubled: &ldquoThe kitchen is the least of my worries.&rdquo

I take this to be an expression of confidence in his team, of his belief in the quality of the food that he and his charges have tested and retested in the kitchen in New York. But it&rsquos also an admission of anxiety, of the many outside, uncontrollable factors that will make or break the restaurant.

Then comes the restaurant&rsquos first review, from a George Washington University student newspaper. It&rsquos a negative one: a restaurant not up to the ritz-carlton standards. It describes a dinner the student critic ate with three others two weeks after opening night, and it alludes to the oft-repeated gripe about the menu&rsquos conservatism that has appeared on local online food discussion boards.

Restaurant critics, says Ripert, have a structure, they have ethics, they have knowledge. This review, on the other hand, feels gratuitous, an attack. Ten years ago, he would have dismissed it today he&rsquos forced to acknowledge it because even if he doesn&rsquot respect it, even if he finds it &ldquoirrational,&rdquo and even if the GW student newspaper has a limited audience, the review is searchable on the Web alongside those of other publications.

It&rsquos got him thinking about the difficulty of trying to impose order on something that&rsquos forever in flux. And especially trying to do it from afar. &ldquoWe are talking about a product that is not stable . . . a product that is very difficult to manage.&rdquo

Hoping to manage the perception of the product&mdashwhich is, ultimately, to manage the product&mdashhe convenes a media luncheon the next day. A number of Washington&rsquos food writers are in attendance. I&rsquom not one of them, although Ripert, I later learn, has decided to serve, in addition to a roast chicken, a pistou, a rustic, pesto-thickened soup. In conversation the night before, I mentioned it would be a good fit for his idea of a relaxed, wintertime lunch. &ldquoHe name-checked you when he introduced it,&rdquo a colleague tells me.

Before they leave, the writers are invited to pose for photos with Ripert, which some agree to. They&rsquore sent home with their pictures, which are slipped into gingerbread-cookie frames.

The luncheon is an effort to cement connections. Less obviously, it&rsquos a chance to gather information about those in attendance, the better to keep tabs on their work and their visits to the restaurant in the future. Eventually, I find out, the staff at Westend has compiled a dossier on everyone who came to lunch.

Later that afternoon, after the courting of the media is over and the staff has begun prepping the dining room for dinner, Ripert and I meet again at the restaurant. A bottle of sparkling water sits between us on the table. Staffers come and go, lighting candles, folding napkins. Nobody dotes on his every word and action. He could be almost anybody sitting in this booth. Almost.

One of the DC-based publicists swings by the table. Ripert jokes about the amount of time I&rsquove been spending with him. Three different cities, four months, multiple interviews. Wherever I go, he says, he goes. He&rsquos joking. But he&rsquos not. The first major reviews have yet to arrive. Do I detect, under the outward calm and charm, a note of anxiety?

He does, however, have control over what I eat. A bowl of the pistou, the soup that was created at my suggestion, is summoned to the table. It becomes an opportunity to talk again about his aim.

At Le Bernardin, he says, &ldquowhatever goes on the plate should elevate the fish.&rdquo At Westend, the philosophy is different, simpler: &ldquoThe food should be slightly comforting, with a slightly sexy element.&rdquo It&rsquos the difference, he says, between Armani and Armani Jeans.

The pistou is a variation of a dish already on the menu, a chicken soup with an artichoke-arugula pesto. The soup is meant to conjure a grandma at the stove, slaving away on a Sunday afternoon for the family supper. The addition of an artichoke-arugula pesto is, he says, &ldquothe sexy element. Grandma was not sexy.&rdquo

The invocation of Grandma, of Sunday suppers, of Mother&rsquos sauce, is a kind of marketing that isn&rsquot meant to sound like marketing.

Westend is not the first restaurant to make this kind of appeal, and it won&rsquot be the last. There&rsquos a craving in the culture for something authentic and real, a reaction against the inundation of chains and disposable goods. Restaurants&mdashwith their nostalgia plates and memory dishes&mdashare equipped to deliver these experiences better than other businesses.

But what&rsquos homespun about a slick restaurant inside a Ritz-Carlton, designed by an elite architectural firm and boasting a licensing agreement with a chef who lives four hours away?

And does it matter, in the end, if it is homespun?

Does it even matter if the cooking&mdashthough sometimes too smooth and sanitized, like those cleaned-up, digitized recordings of raw and powerful classics&mdashis often excellent?

Because what Westend is selling isn&rsquot just food, or an idea of food. It&rsquos selling a product, a brand. It&rsquos selling Ripert.

Ripert makes no apologies about this. The words&mdash&ldquoproduct,&rdquo &ldquobrand&rdquo&mdashdon&rsquot register with him as negatives. I&mdashwho think a purist in the kitchen ought to be a purist in the office and boardroom, too&mdasham the one who still doesn&rsquot get it. Even after four months and three cities and multiple interviews.

In the hope of making me see, he draws one last analogy. Another designer, this time Prada.

&ldquoThis is a genius company,&rdquo he says. Genius marketing. Genius positioning in the marketplace. &ldquoPeople who buy the product become slick and sexy and modern&mdashwhen the reality is most of them are in their sixties most are ugly.&rdquo

What Prada offers, he says, is &ldquoaccess.&rdquo Access to status. Access to a shorthand that connotes an attitude, a way of life.

And it&rsquos not just fashion designers who offer this kind of access. Luxury-car companies do the same&mdashMercedes, BMW, Porsche. All sell more than vehicles they sell a name, an image.

What restaurants are now doing, he says, is what the fashion industry has done, what the luxury-car companies have done. Food, wine, service&mdashthey&rsquore the product. The design, the music, the PR&mdashthey&rsquore the packaging. More than ever, at a certain level, the product and the packaging must be in sync.

In a couple of hours, Ripert the CEO will send out Ripert the chef to play Ripert the celebrity spokesmodel. And the adoring crowds will lap up his glittering presence as surely as they lap up the rillettes and the pâté en croûte, the veal cheeks and the fish burger. A good time will be had by all.

It&rsquos easy to like being at Westend. For all the early, expected lapses, it has made itself into a remarkably consistent restaurant. It&rsquos successful. It&rsquos a good business.

It&rsquos also slick and a little impersonal, less an expression of passion and belief, you can&rsquot help feeling, than of calculation and study. Easy to like but&mdashlike any commodity&mdashhard to love.

This article appears in the May 2008 issue of Washingtonian. To see more articles in this issue, click here.


The Life And Legacy Of Michelin Starred French Chef Joël Robuchon

One of the best known voices of our time in the world of French cuisine was silenced today when chef Joël Robuchon died of cancer at age 73.

Robuchon’s restaurant legacy spanned three continents with outposts from Montreal to Tokyo, and the sheer prolific nature of his empire won the chef the most Michelin stars awarded to date. His contributions to the culinary world landed him the “chef of the century” title from the Gault et Millau cooking guide in 1990.

Joël Robuchon died on Aug. 6, 2018, leaving a culinary legacy behind. (Photo by Arnold Jerocki/Getty . [+] Images)

The inimitable chef was born on April 7, 1945 in Poitiers. “Nothing compelled this bricklayer’s son to walk off with all those titles and rewards,” reads the biography on Robuchon’s website, which notes that the chef had also considered a role in the seminary before deciding to join the culinary landscape. Rising through the ranks of the traditional French chef brigade system, Robuchon began as an apprentice, then companion, before taking over kitchens in the Concorde Lafayette and Nikko Hotels. He opened his first restaurant in 1981, called Jamin, working to create his ‘moderne’ cuisine. “''Chefs must cook for the way we live today. Much of what has been passed off as nouvelle was simply decorative cooking done by chefs without professional training,” he told The New York Times in 1983. ''What I want to be known for is a cuisine that is less heavy, but not necessarily less rich. We use butter, we use cream, but thick, heavy sauces no longer fit into the contemporary life style or taste.''

In 1994, he opened his namesake restaurant, Joël Robuchon on Avenue Raymond Poincaré in Paris, which would soon be recognized as one of the world’s great gastronomic temples. He stepped back to travel to Japan and Spain, which influenced him to open the “L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon" concepts, based on an artisan’s workshop — a counter seated, chef driven restaurant where diners could be immersed in the kitchen experience.

Robuchon’s dishes were refined and precise, with artistry beyond the reach of many home cooks — however, he also encouraged a love of French cuisine in the family kitchen. Although many American diners may have experienced Robuchon’s food in Las Vegas or New York, it was through his cookbooks and television appearances that many may have first encountered his work. “Proper nourishment calls for a certain balance, within each meal and from one to the next,” wrote Robuchon in his The Complete Robuchon cookbook. “To be healthy, then, as well as engaged by the singular pleasure of eating, we must all find ways of varying what we eat…A meal at home comprising three or four parts is perhaps not the norm nowadays, but is eminently civilized and really not so difficult to accomplish.”

Perhaps Robuchon’s greatest memories will live on in the minds of the numerous chefs that he influenced around the world, either through training and working in his restaurants or merely through his sheer presence in the culinary scene.

“Shocked and very sad by the loss of my Mentor Joel Robuchon. The most rigorous, precise, demanding, ultra gifted King of all Chefs. RIP Monsieur Robuchon,” wrote Le Bernadin chef Eric Ripert on Twitter upon hearing the news of Robuchon’s death. Ripert was a cook at Robuchon’s Jamin, an experience that he wrote about in his book 32 Yolks.

“I learned a lot about dedication and timing, but also about Robuchon's level of finesse and quest for perfection,” Top Chef contestant Marcel Vigneron, who worked at Robuchon’s The Mansion in Las Vegas, told me in an interview about the three mentors that changed his career. “The execution was amazing: every single recipe was right down to the gram. Everything needed to be done in a certain way, shape or form — there was no deviating from any of the recipes…You're working for the chef of the century, so when he gives you a recipe, you listen and you do it because you're not going to make that dish better — it's already perfect.”


Dancing on the Tables

Ms. Le Coze claims to have been entirely different during those Paris days — going out to nightclubs, dancing on tables and banquettes. Her lifestyle would have stunned the staff of today’s Le Bernardin, she said. “This is the Maguy you do not know.”

In August, when the restaurant and the rest of Paris closed, she would go to Saint-Tropez while her brother went home to Brittany. She dressed in cowboy boots and short shorts. “That was my license one month a year to go crazy,” she said. “But when I came back to Paris in September and a customer would say to me, ‘We saw you in Saint-Tropez,’ I would say, ‘No, you must be wrong.’ When I am back in Paris, I am running the restaurant and I am different.”

Eventually, she and her brother moved Le Bernardin to a bigger space near the Arc de Triomphe and earned two Michelin stars. Yet Ms. Le Coze remained fascinated by the idea of a restaurant in New York, which she had visited twice in the 1970s. “To me it was a vision, a spiritual thing, if you believe in those things,” she said.

In the early 1980s, 10 friends each promised to invest $100,000 in a small restaurant not far from the Lipstick Building in Midtown. Four eventually backed out. Two years after that, she and her brother received an offer from the Equitable insurance company to open a much grander establishment on 51st Street west of Avenue of the Americas, then considered a risky area for a restaurant.

Once plans were finalized, Le Bernardin went up in fewer than six months. The feat was made possible by “overtime, overtime and more overtime,” said her friend Gail George, the wife of the late Philip George, who designed the interior.

The restaurant opened in January 1986, and later that year the Le Cozes sold its Paris sibling to the chef Guy Savoy. Three months in, the Le Bernardin in New York received a four-star review from The Times, a rating it maintained even after her brother’s death in 1994.

Mr. Le Coze died in an ambulance of a heart attack suffered while working out at a health club. He was 49.

Getting Ms. Le Coze to speak about him is difficult getting her to express her feelings after his death is impossible. Friends say she never totally recovered from the shock.

She recalled, more sad than angry, “After Gilbert died, every other restaurant tried to take people from us. They said, ‘She is not here for long.’” Nobody left, and under Mr. Ripert, who took over as chef and several years later became her business partner, the restaurant thrived.

From 1994 until Ms. Le Coze redecorated her New York apartment two years ago, the only photographs on display there were of her brother.

“She and Gilbert were like one person,” Ms. George said. “Maguy was always fussing over him, adored him like I have never seen anyone adore a younger brother. None of Maguy’s boyfriends back then lasted long. As long as she and Gilbert had each other, they didn’t need anybody else. She provided the asset of a wife without being a wife.”


About Eric Ripert

Eric Ripert is grateful for his early exposure to two cuisines—that of Antibes, France, where he was born, and of Andorra, a small country just over the Spanish border, where he moved as a young child. His family instilled their own passion for food in the young Ripert, and at the age of 15, he left home to attend culinary school in Perpignan. At 17, he moved to Paris and cooked at the legendary L Eric Ripert is grateful for his early exposure to two cuisines—that of Antibes, France, where he was born, and of Andorra, a small country just over the Spanish border, where he moved as a young child. His family instilled their own passion for food in the young Ripert, and at the age of 15, he left home to attend culinary school in Perpignan. At 17, he moved to Paris and cooked at the legendary La Tour D’Argent before taking a position at the Michelin three-starred Jamin. After fulfilling his military service, Ripert returned to Jamin under Joel Robuchon to serve as chef poissonier.

In 1989, Ripert seized the opportunity to work under Jean-Louis Palladin as sous-chef at Jean Louis at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Ripert moved to New York in 1991, working briefly as David Bouley’s sous-chef before Maguy and Gilbert Le Coze recruited him as chef for Le Bernardin. Ripert has since firmly established himself as one of New York’s—and the world’s—great chefs.

In 1995, at just 29 years old, Ripert earned a four-star rating from the The New York Times. Ten years later and for the fourth consecutive time, Le Bernardin again earned the The New York Times’ highest rating of four stars, becoming the only restaurant to maintain this superior status for this length of time, without ever dropping a star.

In 1997, GQ named Le Bernardin the best restaurant in America, and in 2007, the magazine named Le Bernardin one of “Seven Food Temples of the World.” In 2005, New York Magazine declared Le Bernardin the #1 restaurant in the city, awarding it 5 five stars in its inaugural restaurant rating issue—a position it still holds today. Also in 2005, Bon Appétit declared Ripert’s Butter-Poached Lobster with Tarragon and Champagne its “Dish of the Year.”

Le Bernardin continues to receive universal critical acclaim for its food and service. The Michelin Guide, which made its New York debut in 2005, honored Chef Ripert and Le Bernardin with its highest rating of 3 three stars in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. The Zagat Guide has recognized the restaurant as the “Best Food” in New York City for the last eight consecutive years. In 1998, the James Beard Foundation named Le Bernardin “Outstanding Restaurant of the Year” and Eric Ripert “Top Chef in New York City.” In 1999, the restaurant received the “Outstanding Service” award from the Beard Foundation, and in 2003, the Foundation foundation named Ripert “Outstanding Chef in the United States.” In 2009 Ripert was granted the rank of Chevallier in France’s Légion d’Honneur.

Ripert has served as guest judge (and “fan favorite”) on Bravo’s Top Chef for two seasons and has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, The Charlie Rose Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, TODAY, Live with Regis and Kelly, and The Martha Stewart Show. In fall 2008, Ripert published On The Line with Artisan, his second book with the publisher. Ripert will star in his own television series, AVEC ERIC, airing on public television in September of 2009.

Ripert is the chair of City Harvest’s Food Council, working to bring together New York’s top chefs and restaurateurs to raise funds and increase the quality and quantity of food donations to New York’s neediest. When not in the kitchen, Ripert enjoys good tequila and peace and quiet. He lives on the Upper East Side and Sag Harbor with his wife and young son . more


Avec Eric: Eric Ripert

Inside the World of Le Bernardin," by Eric Ripert and Christine Muhlke, is the most fun book you'll ever read about a restaurant you love.
Chaotically organized and seemingly random in its choice of topic from page to page, it's full of more intimate backstage details than any great eatery has ever shared about itself.
Of course, "On the Line" is self-promotional. It celebrates Le Bernardin for changing "how Americans ate fish" - a justifiably immodest boast from a place built on the misleadingly modest mantra of "great fish, prepared simply."
But the book is also shaded with past tragedy - the death in 1994 of original chef Gilbert Le Coze at age 48 - and by a gnawing sense of how precarious the whole magnificent enterprise is today.
Gilbert's sister, Maguy Le Coze, who founded Le Bernardin with him in 1986, owns it with the great chef Ripert. Their serene stewardship and the restaurant itself has seemed as permanent as Manhattan schist.
But Ripert and Muhlke buried their lead - the "secret," revealed on Page 11 and echoed later, that "the lease on Le Bernardin runs out in 2011." Ripert hopes to "successfully renegotiate," but guarantees nothing.
In that light, repeated descriptions of bad plumbing and a too-small kitchen sound like a prelude to uncertain talks with landlord Equitable. And the whole book can be read as a testament to the glory that was, should the end come.
"On the Line" is a strange fish itself, full of sidebars and fact boxes like the ones usually found in trade paperbacks. Ripert and Muhlke had to overrule editors who wanted a conventional approach - i.e., the same one that puts readers of other books written by chefs to sleep.
Like most restaurant tomes, "On the Line" does include recipes you can't replicate at home. If your progressive marinated fluke quartet doesn't come out like Le Bernardin's, well, you're not Ripert or Chris Muller, his chef de cuisine.
But the greatest pleasure lies in a ton of demystifying minutiae about a place with three Michelin stars, four New York Times stars, and the Zagat Survey's top food rating - accolades that for once actually mean something.
The pantry stocks Heinz vinegar, Hunt's tomato paste and Libby's sauerkraut. Muller can't stand chatty kitchen workers and "long hair in particular drives him nuts."
Then there's porter Fernando Uruchima's daily schedule, from 6:30 a.m. till 5 p.m., for checking in deliveries and seeing to myriad indispensable tasks ("10:17 - adds to to-do list, 'No live sea urchins. Check squid!' ")
Ecuadorean -born Uruchima is one of a marvelously multicultural team. Muller, who's been there since 1993, is from Wisconsin, and pastry chef Michael Laiskonis hails from Detroit. But we also meet Martinique-born executive sous chef Eric Gestel, Barbados-born saucier Vincent Robinson, Moroccan-born maitre d' Ben Chekroun and Austrian-born wine director Aldo Sohm.
But the most haunting photo is of Maguy and Gilbert Le Coze - surely the most beautiful siblings ever to migrate from Paris to New York - sharing a rowboat in Central Park.
It's a reminder of mortality you can't help relate to the great institution they created. Long live Le Bernardin.
source: newyorkpost

Eric Ripert Signs With PBS To Do Avec Eric

Eric Ripert, the internationally recognized chef of Le Bernardin restaurant in New York and frequent guest judge on Bravo's "Top Chef," will star for the first time in his own TV series, called "Avec Eric," debuting nationally in the fall on PBS.

Ripert and Le Bernardin have received numerous accolades, earning the highest ratings possible from the New York Times, the Michelin Guide and Zagat.

Ten episodes of "Avec Eric," distributed by American Publication Television, are scheduled to run in the fall.

Eric Ripert was raised in France and learned to cook at a young age from his grandmother. When he was young, his family moved to Andorra. He later returned to France and attended culinary school in Perpignan. In 1982 he moved to Paris where he worked for two years at La Tour d'Argent, a famous restaurant more than 400 years old. Ripert next worked at Jamin and was soon promoted to Assistant Chef de Partie. In 1985 Ripert left to fulfill his military service, after which he returned to Jamin as Chef Poissonier.

In 1989 he moved to the United States and was hired as a sous chef in the Watergate Hotel's Jean Louis restaurant. He stayed for two years before moving to New York City in 1991 to work for David Bouley. He stayed for just a few months before being offered a job at Le Bernardin. In 1994, Ripert became Le Bernardin's executive chef after Gilbert Le Coze died unexpectedly of a heart attack. The following year, Ripert earned a four-star rating from the New York Times, and in 1996 he became a part-owner. In the Michelin Guide NYC 2006, Ripert's Le Bernardin was one of four New York City restaurants to be awarded the maximum 3 Michelin stars for excellence in cuisine.

If his name isn't familiar, you may remember him from his appearances on "Top Chef". He also was a guest on Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations", where they both worked the cook line in Anthony's old workplace at Les Halles.


Eric Ripert Leaves Another Hotel Restaurant - Recipes

When the definitive history of NYC's dining scene is written, Le Bernardin will have a chapter all to itself. Maguy Le Coze and Eric Ripert’s icon has been entertaining the city’s movers and shakers for over 20 years and its popularity remains undimmed.

As soon as you step inside you are enveloped in a warm embrace. Lunch is busy with those who know what they want and trust this well-oiled machine to deliver it in the time they have. Come at dinner for a more languid affair. The menu is divided into headings of “Almost raw,” “Barely touched” and “Lightly cooked,” but don’t be fooled, these product-driven items have considerable depth. Seafood restaurants have no hiding place when it comes to cooking fish or crustaceans and this kitchen always hits its marks—whether that’s poaching halibut, pan-roasting monkfish, baking striped bass or searing tuna.

While seafood remains Ripert's passion, his vegetarian tasting menu makes waves with dishes like the Himalayan morel, spring pea and fava bean casserole or the warm artichoke panaché with vegetable risotto and Périgord black truffle vinaigrette. Bid this spread adieu over coconut mousse with shavings of caramelized pineapple.

  • o Three MICHELIN Stars: Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey!
  • õ Extremely comfortable restaurant one of our most delightful places
Commitment to sustainable gastronomy
Initiatives

Serves 99% sustainable and wild fish from between Maine and North Carolina
Mostly from day boats dedicated food rescue partner
City Harvest.


Tribute to Bourdain – Portuguese Seafood Stew

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In On The Table Ep. 1, Anthony Bordain and his close friend Eric Ripert cook this seafood stew, while Bourdin talks very openly about his life and work.

Anthony Bourdain was a significant presence in the lives of so many of us. His passing was like the loss of a friend, a fellow traveller. He loved Vietnam for the same reasons I love Vietnam. He too understood that one of the best ways to connect with a people and their culture is through food. When asked where he would like to eat his last meal, he responded: a high end sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Perfect.

Eric Ripert comments during the video “…he is not as precise as myself”, so in that spirit I made a few minor alterations to the recipe presented on YouTube. These were generally due to availability of ingredients. The four key things that set Bourdain’s Portuguese Seafood Stew apart from the countless other versions remain in this recipe: the cumin, the chilli, the use of red wine instead of white, and of course the octopus.

Favourite line: Bourdain describing himself as a “red smear on the highway of television”. In the context of cheap mosquito infested hotels in Asia, that reference made sense to me.

There are so many moving tributes to Anthony Bourdain that have been produced after his passing. To me the tribute by Anderson Cooper is one of the most powerful:


Chef Eric Ripert After Finding Anthony Bourdain’s Body: ‘I Pray He Is at Peace’

It was one of Anthony Bourdain&rsquos closest friends who found him unresponsive in his hotel room on Friday morning.

Éric Ripert, a famed chef in his own right whose flagship New York restaurant Le Bernardin holds three Michelin stars, honored Bourdain after his death by suicide at the age of 61.

&ldquoAnthony was my best friend,&rdquo tweeted Ripert on Friday, adding, &ldquoAn exceptional human being, so inspiring & generous. One of the great storytellers who connected w so many. I pray he is at peace from the bottom of my heart. My love & prayers are also w his family, friends and loved ones.&rdquo

Anthony was my best friend. An exceptional human being, so inspiring & generous. One of the great storytellers who connected w so many. I pray he is at peace from the bottom of my heart. My love & prayers are also w his family, friends and loved ones. pic.twitter.com/LbIeZK14ia

&mdash Eric Ripert (@ericripert) June 8, 2018

Ripert would appear from time to time on Bourdain&rsquos CNN travel series &ldquoParts Unknown,&rdquo in one episode sampling an array of fine cheeses in Marseilles, France, with Bourdain before jetting off to the countryside for a picnic, complete with delicious French wine.

The French chef also appeared multiple times on the late author and foodie&rsquos &ldquoNo Reservations&rdquo show.

CNN, which confirmed Bourdain&rsquos death, is now faced with the difficult decision of what to do with his hit show &ldquoParts Unknown.&rdquo The channel announced Friday that a series of tributes is set to run all weekend in honor of the late star and shared that the next episode of &ldquoParts Unknown&rdquo would air on schedule Sunday with a special introduction from Anderson Cooper.

Bourdain was on assignment for &ldquoParts Unknown&rdquo when he was found dead in his hotel room in Paris.

&ldquoHis love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller,&rdquo the network said in a statement. &ldquoHis talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much.&rdquo

Video: Eric Ripert on His Friendship with Anthony Bourdain

Bourdain is survived by his 11-year-old daughter, Ariane. He was dating Italian actress Asia Argento, who shared her grief in a statement on Friday. &ldquoHe was my love, my rock, my protector. I am beyond devastated,&rdquo said the actress.

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After 20 years of insults, Kwame Brown proved revenge is best served flaming hot

The former No 1 overall pick in the NBA draft has been ridiculed for years as a bust. This week, in hours of YouTube rants, he set the record straight Kwame Brown talks to Kobe Bryant during his time with the Lakers in 2006. Photograph: Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images Before the NFL’s JaMarcus Russell there was the NBA’s Kwame Brown. Like the former Raiders quarterback, Brown was a top draft pick whose bevy of physical gifts marked him as the kind of transformational player who only comes along once in a generation. But unlike Russell, who was a star in college with LSU first, Brown had that burden placed upon him while still a teenager. Brown made history as the first NBA player to go No 1 straight out of high school when Michael Jordan’s Washington Wizards came calling in 2001. And if he didn’t go down as a Hall of Fame-bound great in the mold of other straight-from-school players like Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett, well, Brown figured to be at least as brilliant as Jermaine O’Neal or fellow McDonald’s All-American Tyson Chandler. When Brown turned out to be neither of those things, he became easy fodder for “all-time draft busts” clickbait, inspiration for this ur-Stephen A Smith rant, an argument for bringing back the NBA age limit and a punchline for a thousand basketball podcasts – even player-hosted safe-spaces like Showtime’s All The Smoke. In a recent episode reformed NBA tough guys Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson sat down with Gilbert Arenas, the clownish Steph Curry antecedent turned podcast host. When asked about his time with the Washington Wizards, Arenas circled back to his four seasons with Brown. And as much as he tried to tout Brown as a potential best-ever No 1 who had the misfortune of starting his career on the same team Jordan chose to end his, Arenas couldn’t resist calling Brown a “man child” and “show pony” while rubbing in how he seized primacy on the Wizards in a final blow to Brown’s confidence. All the while, Barnes and Jackson snickered along. But Brown, in a welcome twist, wasn’t having it. Puffing a hookah from his home with action figures in his likeness and a key to some city in the background, Brown took to YouTube and unloaded on the trio for more than an hour. Throughout, the 39-year-old effectively labeled Jackson a fake gangster turned fake social justice warrior, Barnes a tragic mulatto and Arenas an Uncle Tom who perpetuated the bust narrative by being a lousy teammate on the Wizards. Brown further recommended the podcast try discussing bigger problems instead of rehashing his career. So of course Barnes and Jackson doubled down. On ESPN’s The Jump, Barnes feigned surprise. “I get where he’s coming from,” he said. “He’s kind of been the butt of jokes coming into the league and not being able to live up to that No 1 potential. If you want to be mad at anyone, be mad at MJ for picking you No 1.” On Instagram, Jackson was unrepentant. “Your whole career was dirt, your whole life is dirt and it ain’t my job to pour more dirt on you,” he said, wishing him “nothing but success” nevertheless. At the time of writing Brown’s responses to their responses had elapsed more than four hours and effectively seem to say, “if you can’t take the heat, don’t name your podcast All The Smoke.” It’s enough to make you wonder: Where has this guy been all along? Even after bursting onto the scene out of Glynn Academy in Georgia, Brown would remain wary of a basketball media that still feasts on all things Jordan – and rightfully so. We savored Jordan dismissing Brown’s hands as too small for his 7ft frame and we made a meal out of him allegedly reducing Brown to tears in a practice – and all while we gently set aside the part about Jordan’s reported use of homophobic slurs like pin bones in a salmon filet. Brown did attempt to correct the record while working as an analyst on SI.com’s coverage of the 2017 draft, saying, “Michael never brought me to tears.” But the rejoinder came too late and was hardly loud enough to cut through noisy and gleeful critics like Skip Bayless and Stephen A Smith – whom Brown, fed up with 20 years of disrespect, has challenged to “mutual combat.” The internet, however, has evened the playing field and Brown, at last, is happy to turn up the volume. When he wasn’t hitting back at his established and arriviste media critics, he was untangling interesting ideas like the impact of LeBron James’s activism on less celebrated players (“imagine the guy who’s on a 10-day contract who needs every bit of this money … not agreeing with LeBron …”) or relating the difficulties of navigating healthcare after the end of an NBA career – a salient point that was lost in the crossfire between him, Barnes, Jackson and Arenas. Again: Where has this guy been all along? And what is it about him that makes for such a convenient punching bag? After all, it’s hard to say Brown was a complete bust. JaMarcus Russell ate his way through the NFL and was out of a job after three years. Brown hung around the NBA for 13 seasons. He started nearly half of his 625 career games and averaged 22 minutes during the regular season. He was traded three times and grossed more than $63m in career earnings. For a kid who was the product of a broken family, who overcame homelessness, who subsisted on free lunch programs, who wore hand-me-down clothes, who couldn’t afford shoes big enough for his feet, and who hailed from a town that has gained infamy as the site of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, Brown looks more like a great American success story than another caption entry for the all-time bust slideshow. (You can’t tell Brown his life isn’t gonna be a movie someday…) Not even Lenny Cooke – the phenom who at one point was the highest-rated prospect in a high school cohort that included James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Amar’e Stoudemire – has to suffer smirking hoops heads rehashing his Icarus-like fall. Where Cooke is seen as a sympathetic figure, Brown draws nothing but ire. Perhaps things would have been different if, like Cooke, he hadn’t made the NBA at all. Take the No 1 pick out of the equation, and Brown’s an upgrade over the vast majority of tall and stiff forward-centers who came before him. He can’t help it if the Wizards liked him more than Tyson Chandler (second overall), Pau Gasol (third) or Tony Parker (28th). What’s more, it wasn’t as if Brown was on some post-playing quest to rewrite the warped popular narrative about him. He was minding his own business when Barnes and Jackson came for him. Now, I’m not telling you anything Brown doesn’t say himself. And not all of his counterattacks were in bounds. In addition to the n-bombs and other explosive insults, his meandering rants don’t hold back on expletives or casual misogyny. But if you can stomach that, you’re gonna love when he takes partial credit for Kobe’s 81-point game in 2006. Brown, a more than serviceable “dirty work” player, firmly believes Kobe would not have been able to post those numbers if Brown wasn’t his teammate setting hard screens. Player beefs in the media are a dime a dozen Barnes, Jackson and Arenas – instigators to the end – are perennial all-stars when it comes to stirring the pot. But credit where due: Brown was the sleeping giant who should’ve been roused a long time ago. And now that he finally has our undivided attention, let’s hope another 20 years don’t pass before this Brobdingnagian teller of truths so much as thinks about going silent again.

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Watch the video: The Untold Truth Of Anthony Bourdains Friend Eric Ripert (December 2021).