Talking Flavor Memories with Eric Ripert and Christina Tosi

Dessert chef Christina Tosi and French chef Eric Ripert, along with Bon Appétit’s Christine Muhlke, discuss flavor, memory and emotion, and their intrinsic ties to their cooking expertise
Junenoire Mitchell

How much do your taste buds rely on your memories and emotions? For Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar and Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, two chefs making waves in our current food scene, they have everything to do with the everyday, and have become the starting point for both their culinary innovations and careers in food.

Brought together by moderator Christine Muhlke, executive editor of Bon Appétit, along with FIAF (French Institute: Alliance Française), the event culminated a series of talks on flavor, and people who think about food in innovative ways. Both chefs, Ripert and Tosi, discussed, recalled, and recollected memories, tastes, emotions and feelings, and connected them to their current culinary practices, evolution of their careers, and obsessions with food.

Tosi, a dessert chef, recalling cookie dough and sour-cream-and-onion chips as some of her earliest food memories, and Ripert, a French chef remembering both rustic and intricate Mediterranean influences, connected in each’s quest to create an emotional response in the eater; a creative process that can’t be taught, but one that heavily relies on the fusion of learned technique with emotion. “Eating creates emotions and flavors and memories in your mind,” explained Ripert, “but technique by itself is nothing. It needs the emotional power behind it.”

The two chefs hail from starkly opposite backgrounds, Tosi from what she termed “low-brow” America, an already-picky eater savoring junk food and everything prepackaged, and Ripert from a slightly more refined French home, experiencing every meal with four courses and consequent mid-meal changes in china. Yet despite these cultural differences, it was intriguing what both chefs held in common, and on how many levels they seemed to connect throughout the conversation.

Both currently working at achieving “umami” in their kitchens, a Japanese term understood slightly differently for all, but as Ripert so eloquently put it, translating literally from Japanese as “yummy,” each strives to understand and recreate that indescribable “wow effect” in each of their creations. Also carrying what is deemed as an “earthy” taste, a savory feeling or state of mind created by a combination of ingredients, this aspect can be a real challenge to achieve.

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