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Eric Ripert: The Fire Inside

2 weeks ago by

Eric Ripert is a superstar with a simple life. A world-famous chef without an empire. A busy man, who after a lot of reflection and discovering buddhism, went from a self described “monster in the kitchen” to someone who cares deeply about cultivating a place where the people around him can thrive and be happy.

I met Eric at his three star Michelin star restaurant Le Bernardin, in New York and his positive energy and humility is instantly apparent.

Of course, as usual I wanted to talk about life, love, and destiny, and in his case cooking, becoming successful and succeeding to stay small. It’s clear that what motivates him is not fame and money, but rather something deeper that’s been there from the beginning – a true love of food.

Eric is warm and shares openly about how Buddhism helped shape him into the man and chef he is today. I was so intrigued and caught up by his story that I completely forgot to ask him my usual rapid-fire questions!

I hope you enjoy meeting Eric as much as I did.

podcast cover

Eric Ripert: The Fire Inside

Pardon My French with Garance Doré
Eric Ripert: The Fire Inside

00:00
00:00

atelier dore eric ripert pardon my french podcast garance dore

atelier dore eric ripert pardon my french podcast garance dore

On his early education…
I didn’t like the school system too much. I didn’t understand the logic behind, for instance, in mathematics, why do you have to study the speed of the train that leaves Paris at 5:05 and the one that leaves Lyon at 4:37 and one goes at 35 mph and one goes at 70 mph, and where do they cross? Why do I have to know that?? That was the beginning of getting lost…a lot of topics were not very interesting to me, but I loved eating and at night instead of studying, I was looking at the cookbooks from Paul Bocuse.

On his exposure to good food from a young age…
For breakfast, lunch and dinner, it was a different table cloth for each, different arrangement and different china. We’d have appetizers, a main course, cheese and dessert that was different from lunch to dinner, and every day of the week. My mother was a busy woman with her business, but she’d wake up at five in the morning and prepare for the family to eat delicious food and I thought everyone on the planet was having the same experience!

On needing to love the industry…
Our industry is the wrong one if you want to be rich and famous. Of course there are a few exceptions, however it’s not my driving force. You have to love how to cook, food, craftsmanship, and hospitality. You have to love those things, so much, because it’s very difficult, especially in the beginning when you start in a kitchen. It’s a very inhospitable world – it’s humid, hot, slippery with a lot of sharp objects everywhere, it’s tight and not simple. But, that fire inside pushed me to go to the kitchen, to work hard and be strong.

On the rude awakening coming to the United States…
I thought I was coming out of the best kitchens in France, mentored by Joël Robuchon, who was considered a god in our country. And I thought America needs me! I was the savior!

On the difference between learning in French and American kitchens…
In France, they think by humiliation, they will create champions. And in America, it’s positive reinforcement very often and therefore, it’s like, “oh, you burned the fish for the third time, don’t worry, it’s going to be ok!” I’m exaggerating and it’s almost like a caricature, but it’s two different ways that each have their plusses and minuses.

On being an angry young chef…
I was a monster in my kitchen. Throwing tantrums and plates on the floor, yelling at the cooks. I thought it was the right way to do it. But then I realized I was extremely unhappy in my life, the cooks were unhappy because they were leaving, the waiters didn’t even want to come into the kitchen. I realized it was a big weakness to think anger was something good.

atelier dore eric ripert pardon my french podcast garance dore

On realizing he had creative freedom in the kitchen…
In France, I learned rigor, discipline, technique and many other qualities a cook needs, but I was not in a position of being creative. I was basically duplicating. When I came to the U.S., Jean-Louis said to me, “You know, you’re a robot. Basically whatever I tell you to do, you do it, but I’m expecting much more from you. With me, you will have the opportunity to create, and obviously you’ll have to show it to me first, but I really want you to express yourself.”

On knowing that accepting the job at Le Bernardin was a significant…
After many discussions, I decided to take the position. That was in 1991 on June 10th at 7:40am. I looked at my watch and thought, it’s something special here and I don’t know what it is but this moment is very, very different, so let’s look at the time because I will remember it all my life. And I was right because today it’s 2019 and I’m still here! And Le Bernardin has been very good to me.

On wanting his restaurant to be a place where people can flourish…
I’ve been working really hard so that Le Bernardin is an environment where everyone can flourish and blossom with a very positive energy in the kitchen and dining room. There is no war between the front and back of house. I believe strongly that a cook who is shaking can’t do a better job than someone who is inspired by their leader and sous chefs.

On the funny way he got into Buddhism
When I left France, I was at the airport and I was torn between taking a Playboy and a book on Tibet! The book was on sale for the same price as the Playboy and after some back and forth, I finally ended up with the book. I read it on the plane and was very interested by the Tibetan culture and then asked my mother to send me some books in French about Buddhism and Tibet.

On how Buddhism has changed him…
It has changed my way of seeing life and my way of being in this life. It has a huge positive influence for me…It helped me to interact with people, to be a better person with my staff, the community, our clients, my family, and everyone surrounding me. I try to remain as humble as I can. But all those qualities for me come from the influence of Buddhism, but they could come from Jewish religion, the Christians, or Muslims or Hindus, it doesn’t matter. I think it’s a universal way of being. It’s a certain moral compass we all have and some people need more guidance, like me, and it comes from different sources, and some people don’t necessarily need it.

On being content…
At some point, you have to find a level of contentment. Look, I feel lucky. I have a nice family, I have a great team around me, a very good life. Yes, I work, but it’s my passion. I try to find a balance in this life that makes me happy and potentially makes the people surrounding me happy.

atelier dore eric ripert pardon my french podcast garance dore

atelier dore eric ripert pardon my french podcast garance dore

OTHER THINGS MENTIONED
Antibes, France
Joël Robuchon
City Harvest
La Tour d’Argent
Tibet House

A very special thanks to the team at Le Bernardin for welcoming us into their restaurant. Be sure to stay tuned in to the latest from Eric at Le Bernardin and at City Harvest!

10 comments

Add yours
  • D’où viennent tes baskets !!!! :-) Super interview. Merci !

  • So lovely to see you, Garance, AND Eric Ripert! A very interesting interview – thank you.

  • Yes – a very interesting interiew! He doesn’t seem like your typical celebrity chef. Loved the bits about his childhood, French vs American teaching, and his path to Buddhism.

  • Caroline April, 9 2019, 12:16 / Reply

    Voilà moi aussi j’ai regardé l’heure et il était 5h59. Comme chaque matin, je commence ma journée en vous lisant, en m’inspirant. Mais je ne pensais pas sentir mes larmes coulées de si bon matin. Mais voilà.
    Réussir à devenir une meilleure version de soi-même, se sentir guidé spirituellement m’émeut particulièrement. Sans doute une résonance…
    Merci pour cette interview et pour toute l’inspiration que vous nous donnez.
    Caroline.

  • Hi Garance and Atelier Doré –

    I had to come back to this post for not just bringing Eric Ripert to us but continuing the conversation about his dear friend, Anthony Bourdain, mental health, the importance of taking care of ourselves whether it be a peaceful walk in the park or Buddhism,… and how we can choose to impact those around us in a positive way.

    PS – So glad he picked up the book on Tibet! xo

  • I can’t wait to listen to this interview! I have followed Eric Ripert’s work for many years and even saw him and Bourdain on stage during their U.S Tour. Eric is grounded and zen, but at the same time focused and extremely successful. It is inspiring! I finally dined at Le Bernardin years ago and it was, by far, the best meal of my life.

  • I could feel joy emanating from his voice and words – it touched me so much as I realized how I am indeed so fortunate to be where I am. Thank you for bringing out this beautiful interview.

  • Michelle April, 16 2019, 10:48 / Reply

    Chef Ripert is one of my favorites so representative of what a man, innovator and professional should be. Do you know what branch of Buddhism he follows? Thank you so much!

  • caroline April, 16 2019, 1:14 / Reply

    Garance,

    Love Eric, love the article & interview, love Le Bernardin and love your runners (whose?).

    Thank You.
    Caroline O.
    [email protected]

  • Thank you so much for this interview, I really loved it. Your interviewing style is so down-to-earth and relatable, and everything that Eric said was at the same time huge, but the way he says it, so simple. I was very inspired and could have listened to him for another 45 minutes! Thank you!!

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