The good chef
You probably know Chef Eric Ripert as a judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef” or from “No Reservations,” where he’s traveled and eaten with best buddy and fellow silver fox, Anthony Bourdain. But, this soft-spoken chef from Andorra, France, is a star in his own right, with four cookbooks, a show called “Avec Eric” on PBS and a four-star restaurant in New York (among others) under his apron strings.
When we spoke to Ripert on the telephone last month in anticipation of his and Bourdain’s October 30 show at the Paramount Theater, he was minutes from re-opening his shrine to seafood, Le Bernadin, after a month-long renovation.—Megan Headley
All You Can Eat: Le Bernadin is the ultimate dining out experience, whereas “Avec Eric” is geared more towards travel and home-cooking. Where does your current passion lie?
Ripert: I still love both, but I’m not 20 anymore. I love leading my team at the restaurant, but “Avec Eric” has been a great opportunity to travel and connect with people. It’s like the difference between haute couture and ready-to-wear—both still involve quality ingredients and techniques.
What do you find to be the most exciting trend in dining?
People are passionate about food everywhere now. It has been a part of European culture for much longer than in America, but the recent backlash against processed food here is good. All of a sudden people are aware of how their chicken was raised and what has trans fats in it. Everyone wants to be cooking with and eating the best ingredients possible.
You worked in the D.C. area in 1989 and have traveled extensively through Virginia for “Avec Eric,” including a visit to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms. What did you think?
I was so happy to return to Virginia—I knew it was beautiful, but had forgotten just how beautiful. What Joel does makes sense and proves that you can have sustainability. It is the ideal model for the land, for the animals and for our diet—he’s an inspiration and the solution for the future.
Do you think the locavore movement is here to stay?
It’s certainly interesting and an inspiration, but I prefer not to get obsessive over it and eat nothing but apples all winter. I think preserving food is great and have childhood memories of parties when we’d all help boiling and peeling tomatoes to prepare for the winter.
What can we expect from you and Chef Bourdain? A food fight?
He likes to roast me first, then it is my turn. We both love food—Anthony is less fine dining, but he likes good food and he knows good ingredients.
I know you are partial to Bordeaux (and tequila), but have you tasted Virginia wine?
I love scotch now too! I haven’t tried Virginia wine, but will have a good opportunity to when I come to Charlottesville.
The bad chef
Anthony Bourdain is crass, offensive and grumpy—but we can’t seem to get enough of him. The foul-mouthed, omnivorous chef became a household name in 2000 with his best-selling book, Kitchen Confidential, in which he exposed the good, the bad and the downright unappetizing subculture of the restaurant world. He became a television star in 2005 when his book A Cook’s Tour inspired a Travel Channel show called “No Reservations,” with Bourdain serving as our intrepid, chain-smoking (though he recently kicked that habit), heavily imbibing host.
After nine seasons of putting anything and everything into his mouth (he once swallowed a still-beating cobra heart in Vietnam) and letting anything and everything spew out of it (he once called the butter-slathering Food Network star Paula Dean the worst, most dangerous person to America), he debuts a new series called “The Layover” on November 21, where he eats and drinks his way through a city—“from dive bars to five stars”—in 24 to 48 hours. His latest book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, returns to the underbelly of the culinary world through interviews with other controversial foodie figures. Keep feeding us, Tony—we’re always hungry for more.
The chefs’ chef
Pei Chang, Ten’s executive chef who’s cooked for the Grammys and Oscars at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, wasn’t nervous about cooking for Chefs Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain—that is, until people started asking him if he was. Of course, he has no reason for nerves. Chang’s cooked at the second floor sushi mecca on-and-off since it opened in 2006 (with stints at Keswick in between, where his brother-in-law, Dean Maupin, is executive chef) and has been at the kitchen’s helm for a year and a half now.
After Bourdain and Ripert entertain a sold-out audience at the Paramount, they’ll head to Ten with 150 VIP ticket holders to sign books and chat over drinks and passed hors d’oeuvres. Although Chang’s never met the chefs, he knows from their books and television shows that they love the clean and simple flavors of Asian food and plans to do what he does best—sushi and a few grilled items—just gussied up a bit. “What do you serve people who’ve eaten everything in the world?” said Chang. He’s especially excited about the o-toro sushi with white truffle paste he has planned for the evening.