Treasured: Eric Ripert’s Culinary Library
Originally appeared on Food and Wine, September 2014. Interview and photographs by Melanie Dunea.
Chef Eric Ripert: “I created this library with books that originally came from my home. I had way too many, so except for the signed ones—which live in my office—I moved most of them here. It’s mandatory for all of my sous-chefs to look at each book; after all eight sous-chefs have looked at them, then they go back on the shelf. They are allowed to look at them during their shift for half an hour, one hour, however long they want. A few chefs are permitted to take the books home to study them and the line cooks are allowed to enjoy the books here in this space.”
“My most treasured item is this cookbook by chef Jean-Louis Palladin. He was my mentor and I deeply admire his work. This book is his legacy. It is 25 years old, and looks like it could have been photographed yesterday. It’s a timeless masterpiece. He gave it to me in his office after service in spring of 1989. This book is deeply inspiring and when I think of Jean-Louis, it’s never in a sad way, only with great happiness. I’m know he would like to be remembered by his friends and family in a joyful way.”
“I must be very OCD because if one book is missing I spot it right away. We organize the books by categories to make it easy for the sous-chefs to find what they are looking for. We have books about Scandinavian, Asian, Indian and Spanish food; some about wines, ones about French chefs, about French cooking, about restaurants, about New York, food writing, media books. Right now I can see there is one book still missing from Joël Robuchon that was signed to me. We asked all the chefs to check to see if they had it at home. Eventually somebody found it and is going to bring it back. But it’s amazing that if one book is missing, I know!"
“I ask my sous-chefs to create mood boards, and all of the inspiration comes from these books. There is a feeling and sensuality of having a book in your hands, you can’t have that same experience with your computer or iPad or cellphone, that’s why books are important.”
“I never read other recipes because I have a vast array of techniques that I know and I always use for cooking. My style of cooking is very personal, I’m not switching every five minutes. However, I am very inspired by visuals. When I look at a cookbook, I’m really looking at the photographs. A cookbook without pictures doesn’t work for me. I do have a couple of sous-chefs who love looking at the different techniques and that’s a good thing because after they study a technique, they show it to us. What makes Le Bernardin unique is the sauces, that is what makes the difference. We are very particular about the sauce and therefore our presentation is not as modern or clean-cut as some chefs’. It’s less about aesthetics and more about the flavors and the sauce. But we do always try to change the presentation to be more contemporary, keeping in mind that I don’t care about a beautiful dish, I’d rather have an ugly dish that tastes good than a beautiful dish that is disconnected.”
“For my own books, I try to inspire.”
Three ways to be inspired in the kitchen:
1. Travel, and as often as you can, go to the source. Go where the food has come from to have an understanding of where it has come from, and you will have more respect for it.
2. Eat as much as you can, food from different chefs and different cuisines.
3. Keep an open mind. A lot of young chefs make the mistake of sticking to one thing they know. For instance, I don’t mind molecular cuisine, but a lot of chefs who were inspired by it stick to it instead of having an open mind, and many other chefs refuse it. But the fact is, that it exists and in many aspects is interesting. Have an open mind because that will help you progress and it will help you to integrate techniques into your own cooking.