Eric Ripert, oysters and bat mitzvahs
Eric Ripert walks into the Hungry Cat after signing books at the Hollywood Farmers' Market, and he's carrying a plastic bag. "I bought some detox," he says (it was a late night at the Chateau Marmont), pulling out a bottle of raw sugar cane juice and pouring a little for everyone at the table. "The sugar cane really gives you energy." Ripert -- chef-partner at the four-star, seafood-focused French restaurant Le Bernardin in New York -- is in L.A. for a few days en route to San Francisco and Seattle to promote his book, "On the Line." "My friend Anthony Bourdain says [touring for a book] is like campaigning for an election," he says. No wonder he needs the energy.
In between BeauSoleil oysters with Chablis, lobster omelet and crab cakes, Ripert chats about his book, L.A., Le Bernardin, his favorite seafood, his appearance on this season's "Top Chef" (well, he says he can't talk about that), and his website Avec Eric.
About Los Angeles: I come to L.A. three or four times a year. I love the laid-back aspect; I would love to live in California. I love Chateau Marmont, where I stay. [Coming to L.A.] is an excuse to stay there.... There are great restaurants in L.A. It wasn't like this 10 years ago. There's great respect for the quality of ingredients -- I'm talking about the produce -- here. I think in New York, you have to use more tricks, maybe manipulate a little more to get the full flavor of vegetables sometimes.
What's not on his menu: One woman asked me to special-order Chilean sea bass for her. I explained that we don't serve it because it's an endangered species. But she said that she wanted to try it before it all disappears. She said it jokingly, but I think she meant it!
Other special requests: One guy rented out the entire restaurant for his daughter's bat mitzvah. His daughter is a big fan of "Top Chef" and we set her party up like the show. He flew in a chef from an obscure restaurant in Maryland and we did crab cakes. There were 15 girls on my team and 15 girls on his team. His crab cakes were phenomenal. He kicked my .... !
About Le Bernardin's lease ending in 2011: I put that in the book so I can pressure the landlord. But really, I don't know what it means.
About the book: It was a three-year project. I wanted a documentary approach, but instead of doing it on film, it's a book. I wanted to pay homage to the restaurant and the team. It wasn't about doing a cookbook, but recipes are a part of my life, so there are of course recipes too.
About his kitchen at Le Bernardin: Christine [Muhlke, who co-wrote the book] says it is small. I was surprised. I think it's huge. It's twice the size of this restaurant [the Hungry Cat]. But I said, "Christine, if you think it's small, then I guess you can say it's small."
Favorite seafood: Atlantic halibut. Alaskan halibut is drier, denser. Atlantic halibut is so silky and juicy.... The recipe for halibut with a verjus-lemongrass infusion [in the book] is pretty easy, and it's delicious.
On sushi: Lee Hefter [of Spago] has taken me around to eat sushi here. He is hardcore.... When I go to Matsuhisa, I always sit at the omakase counter. The last time I was in Tokyo, I went to a place called [Sukiyabashi] Jiro. You go down into the subway and turn left, there it is. If your reservation is at 12:35, then you eat at 12:35, not 12:33, not 12:37 -- 12:35. And you eat 25 incredible courses of sushi.... In New York I go to Masa, but at $600 per person, it's killing me. [Side note: I tell Ripert that I tried the fried eel spines at Bar Masa. His reponse: I think eel bones are poisonous.]
About Avec Eric: You've got to see the toaster oven videos. It's all recipes using the toaster oven. I used to be condescending about the toaster oven. 'Toaster oven? Please!' But then I saw my wife cooking fish in the toaster oven for my son, and I thought it was amazing. [The "Avec Eric" PBS series (in which Ripert cooks in a studio kitchen -- with more than a toaster oven -- and travels to Italy, upstate New York and Northern California to find out about ingredients) airs in September.]
-- Betty Hallock
Photo credit: www.aveceric.com