I was ecstatic when my friend Rebecca (a culinary school classmate) emailed me to ask if I wanted to join her and Clare (another classmate) at an event at Astor Center featuring Eric Ripert, the executive chef and part-owner of Le Bernardin. Ripert, who is also know for his frequent appearances on Bravo’s Top Chef, is one of my culinary idols. Le Bernardin — one of only four restaurants in NYC awarded three Michelin stars — remains on the tippity top of my “to eat at” list.
Ripert gave a talk about his new book, On the Line, which takes readers into the trenches at Le Bernardin, showing them what it takes to maintain a New York Times four-star-rated eatery. The format of the talk was an interview of Ripert by Christine Muhlke who co-authored the book.
Ripert spoke for about an hour, and I was riveted the entire time. He then took questions from the audience. When asked about his favorite foods and guilty pleasures, he cited dark chocolate (to eat) and black truffles (to cook with), and maintained that he has no “guilty pleasures” because he has no guilt about eating anything.
One attendee asked about leadership, not just in the context of the kitchen. To answer, Ripert used the metaphor of sled dogs saying that the one who leads the pack is not the fastest (who might go too fast and burn the others out) or the oldest (who is past his prime), but rather the one who is most in tune with the rest of the pack and can pick up on all the signs and signals that the other dogs send.
He likened going out to eat to going to see a movie but better as, “you’re IN the movie.”
One compelling thing Ripert touched upon was when Muhlke brought up the current economic situation. He talked about how Le Bernardin’s strategy to keep their tables filled has been to increase their marketing budget, and NOT reduce their prices. He gave as an example the brand Hermes and how during last year’s recession they were the only luxury brand who increased sales, largely due to the reputation of the craftsmanship and quality of their leather products. He said that when people who used to be able to afford five bags could only afford one, they would buy an Hermes. He hopes that dinner at Le Bernardin will be the same sort of choice. As people cut back and can only go out on special occasions, Ripert has faith that they will walk through his doors because he hasn’t compromised with discounted menu items or, “replaced black truffles with black olives.”
He even said that food blogs are great for the industry, so there you have it.
After the talk, Ripert and Muhlke signed everyone’s books, and even stopped to pose for some photos. What I’ve read of the book so far is quite good. It goes into great detail about how a restaurant is run, from the roles of each person on staff to the way the walk-in refrigerator is organized. It also includes several recipes, some of which are accompanied by charming little sketches and notes. Hopefully, some day, I’ll get to try the food firsthand.
Until then, at least I have a great new Facebook profile photo.