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2018 Chef of the Year: Eric Ripert

By Lauren Jade Hill

This year’s coveted Chef of the Year accolade goes to Eric Ripert of the acclaimed New York restaurant Le Bernardin. Not only has the French chef won plaudits and widespread commendation for his work at this three-Michelin-starred institution, Ripert has found a place in people’s homes through a collection of cookbooks and Avec Eric. This Emmy-award winning PBS show saw the chef embark on a series of journeys in search of inspiration, encouraging viewers to step into the kitchen. Whether it’s through filming or personal expeditions, travel has certainly enhanced Ripert’s approach to cooking. Elite Traveler sits down with the accomplished chef to get his take on current culinary trends, what brings Le Bernardin such success, and what we can expect to see on the global dining scene.

Eric Ripert, courtesy of Daniel Krieger

What can diners expect at Le Bernardin? People come to Le Bernardin for many reasons. They are seeking different experiences. Some people come because it’s a business lunch, others come to celebrate, and some people travel a long way just to have the Le Bernardin experience. Therefore, I make sure I go to the tables of the people who want to meet the chef. And very often, I bring them to the kitchen, where they can take pictures and see behind the scenes.

Why do people find your food so appealing? We have a style that’s produce driven. The fish is the star of the plate, and that dictates the culinary style. Whatever we put on the plate, our role is to elevate all the ingredients’ qualities. When we add vegetables to a dish, we don’t just do it for visual effect — it has to pay homage to the fish.

How has travel influenced your creativity when creating new dishes? I grew up in the South of France and Andorra, and my influence today is found through travel and all the different cuisines you find here in New York. This is a place where the whole world meets and where people from all over the planet are sharing their dishes, ingredients and techniques. Because of this, I have a very organic fusion of influences in my cooking. I was in Japan in October last year, and when I came back I felt very inspired by everything that’s happening there. Not just by the culinary tradition in Japan but also by the country’s avant-garde movement, which is breaking all the rules and reinventing Japanese food. When I came back I wanted to make the whole menu Japanese, but I had to control myself and remember that Le Bernardin is a French restaurant with influence taken from all around the world. The same thing happens if I go to Italy — I come back and I just want to make Italian food — but I have to remember what Le Bernardin is.

Eric’s Ripert Caviar Wagyu, courtesy of Francesco Tonelli

Does your food evolve with current culinary trends? Of the trends that are more philosophical, sustainability has been a worldwide concern lately, in terms of produce but also with the sustainability of the land. We make sure we have organic produce and that we serve fish that’s from nature and not endangered. A lot more people want to have a meal based around vegetables too, so I have created a vegetable tasting menu. That is very successful, and it’s a trend that you’ll see in a lot of restaurants at the moment.

What trends do you expect to see more of? The trend for sustainability is not going to fade. It’s something that’s going to keep growing as we become more educated about it. People are more and more concerned about health too, as they learn more about the right way to nourish themselves. Some people don’t like the idea of globalization, but the world is slowly but surely becoming one. We can communicate with anyone anywhere, and it’s the same with food. We have influences from all over the world, so fusion cuisine is a trend that’s not going to die. But it’s not going to be gimmicky — it’s just going to be a natural expression.

Eric Ripert’s Scallop Ceviche, courtesy of Shimon & Tammar

What excites you about the global dining scene right now? I’m excited by the interaction between chefs around the world. That’s very new. Years ago a chef wouldn’t have traveled across the world to work with another chef and create a menu at their restaurant. I have done collaborations like this in the past, and I’m sure I will again.

What is your biggest achievement as a chef? My biggest achievement is to have been able to create a team whom I mentor on a daily basis to carry my vision. I’m very proud when I inspire people too, not only with the experience they have at Le Bernardin but also with my books and TV shows. All of that makes me very happy.

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Are there any new projects on the horizon? My projects are very simple. My focus right now is to create the [next seasonal] menu. It’s a lot of work, and there’s a lot of passion going into it. It’s like a fashion designer who needs to work on their fall collection. And I can’t talk about it too much yet, but there may be another TV series very soon.

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