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Which Chef Does Eric Ripert Think is an S.O.B?

Chef Eric Ripert of NYC’s Le Bernardin was in town last week to promote his excellent new cookbook, On The Line (Artisan). Co-authored by Christine Muhlke, it’s a look behind the scenes (danger, drama!) at one of the country’s most revered fine-dining restaurants. Twenty years into it, Ripert has a lot to say.

Ripert is close friends with chef Laurent Manrique of Aqua, so he’s spent more than the usual amount of time eating around SF. Ripert and I sat down for dinner the other night and had a chat. Turns out he's a seriously nice, soft-spoken guy.

Here’s a copy of 7x7 so you know what you’re getting into. [He flips to the Dine section and sees a picture of a chef.]
Hey, another chef with grey hair! Who's that?

Sean O'Brien of Zinnia. He used to be at Myth.

Ah.

So, what did you do today?

I gave a lecture at Google about how to motivate a team. Google is the master of the galaxy. Their kitchens are amazing—they manage 15 restaurants with sustainable organic products. It’s just incredible. I was very impressed.

What did you tell Google?
If you nurture your team, they give it back to you.

I’m working on a story about female line cooks for our February issue. Who cooks better—women or men?
Men are slightly more disciplined, but women are more soulful.

You’ve been a judge a lot on Top Chef? What do you think of the show?
They’re genius in creating entertainment and keeping the integrity. At the end of the day, Top Chef is about the guy or girl that makes the best food. Tom is the guy who never compromises his passion. And Padma really knows food.

Where did you dine last time you were in the Bay Area?
I went to Cyrus [in Healdsburg]. I like to be pampered and to indulge.

Any chef you revere here?
I like David Kinch. That guy is seriously talented. I ate at Manresa when it just had opened and I was blown away. I was like, Son of a bitch! He has an incredible, obsessive knowledge of his products and the rare talent to elevate ingredients to their best.

What was it like to be the head of Le Bernardin at 26?
You have a naïve passion about it and it makes you go the extra mile. I didn’t know I was young at 26. I didn’t give a fuck about what people thought. I was doing my thing.

Why don’t you think molecular gastronomy has taken off in SF?
You’re not going to mess with the products here, therefore molecular gastronomy doesn’t have a place. Every city has a certain soul and a certain culture and it tries to make the city magical. If we were all the same, we would be bored to death.

What do you think of Ferran Adria?
Actually, I’ve heard he’s “done.” He’s going back to traditional cooking.

How about David Chang of Momofuko? He comes across as if he just fell into his success.
To some extent, we play our game and he plays his game brilliantly.

What’s your game?
Wait for the second bottle of wine and I’ll tell you.