Indagare Insider: Chef Eric Ripert

Growing up in the South of France, Eric Ripert observed his grandmother in the kitchen and fell in love with the artistry and technique of cooking. Today, the head chef of the legendary Le Bernardin is one of the most lauded culinary figures of all time, having led the restaurant with a consistent three-Michelin-star rating for more than ten years. The author of five cookbooks and one memoir, Ripert remains a celebrated icon of the global food scene and is famed for his exceptional cuisine, remarkable career and dedicated philanthropy. Indagare spoke to the charming Frenchman about his inspiration for cooking, his favorite restaurants worldwide and where he can’t wait to go next.

What are some of your greatest culinary influences? In my house, every meal was a celebration. Even at casual family gatherings, each meal was pretty sophisticated, because my mother was very passionate about creating an experience for us. Every day, I was inspired to eat well, of course, but potentially to become the chef I am today. Growing up in Andorra, a small region between France and Spain, I was exposed to different types of cuisines, including those of Provence, Spain and Italy (thanks to my Italian grandmother). As a result, I grew to love rich, aromatic flavors, and these still form the base of my cuisine. But living in New York—with all the influence from Asia and other parts of the world—I add a lot of foreign flavors to my cooking, specifically from Japan, Korea and Thailand.

What was the original vision of Le Bernardin and how has it evolved into the restaurant it is today? Le Bernardin was founded as a very luxurious, distinctly French restaurant. In recent years, however, it has evolved as more of a New York restaurant, and now has far less formality than it once did. The cuisine incorporates more global influences, and the space was renovated completely several years ago. As a result, Le Bernardin of the 1980’s looks very different from Le Bernardin of 2017.

You’ve appeared on multiple TV shows and written several books. How do you envision the next five years career-wise? My focus is mainly on Le Bernardin. I have fun with it and truly enjoy taking care of it. In the next few years, I would like to write more books and potentially do more TV. For now, though, it’s mainly Le Bernardin and Blue in the at the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman.

Related: Top 10: New NYC Restaurants

What are some of your favorite restaurants worldwide, and what do you think contributes to a great dining experience?

Of course, I have a lot of them! My favorite restaurants range from fine dining to very casual places. In Paris, I love Le Comptoir du Relais in Saint Germain de Près, a nice little bistro, and Guy Savoy. In my opinion, a great restaurant experience is very subjective. At Le Bernardin, we rely on our staff to tell us what guests are looking for: some people come to celebrate birthdays or anniversaries, some come on business, some on dates, so we try to have a feel of what guests want and customize the service accordingly. As a result, everybody has a different experience, but the common thread is a very luxurious, pampering meal. And obviously, delicious food!

What is your favorite foreign dish? I love Vietnamese spring rolls–they’re called nems. And couscous.

Do you have a favorite foreign city? I really like Tokyo. It has a great dining scene and such incredible culture. Of course, it’s a huge urban center, but I love it still; it’s a great place for eating, for exploring, for everything.

What are some destinations on your wish list? There are many! I’d like to visit Nepal, Myanmar, Argentina, and return to China.

Related: The Top 10: Romantic Restaurants

What is your favorite hotel for an escape?

I love Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. Whenever I go, I barely leave the hotel!

Do you have any favorite items to buy abroad? I collect Buddhas and buy them all over the world—from Asia to Italy. If I find a nice one I like, I bring it back with me.

Do you have any favorite markets? La Boqueria in Barcelona is one of—if not the—most beautiful markets in the world.

City, beach, desert or mountains? Mountains. Specifically, the Himalayas.

Related: Indagare Favorites: Wellness Escapes

What do you do to relax? Every morning I spend quite some time reading and meditating. I walk through Central Park every day to work; it’s a real luxury for me. Every year I take a few weeks to travel the world or revisit a favorite destination by myself. While there, I try to have little communication with the outside world.

Related: Bhutan: Six To Know

What is your favorite travel ritual?

Morning meditation. It works for me.

What destination surprised you? Bhutan. I have never seen so many happy people, and the natural beauty of the country was overwhelming. Bhutan is tiny but has several microclimates, meaning many regions—which are close to one another—each with different scenery. I was extremely surprised by all the monasteries; everything was clean and beautiful, people are nice. I spent 20 days there and each was an adventure. No day was the same.

What was your most transformative travel moment? Last year I went to India and Nepal. My journey started in Varanasi. I loved it; India is a fantastic, incredible country. Many times I find myself in different countries or even here in New York, looking at my surroundings and seeing how beautiful the world can be. I think the more you travel, the more you find beauty in the world, no matter where you go.

Now for the toughest question of all! Paris or New York? It’s a difficult question because I like a lot of things about Paris, but ultimately I would say New York. If not, I would live in Paris!

Published onMarch 1, 2017

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