Eric Ripert: Diners Want Seasonal, Sustainable Foods

Renowned chef Eric Ripert told attendees at the annual convention of the Research Chefs Association that consumers expect transparency and less processed foods.

Ripert — executive chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin in New York, television host and cookbook author — said in his keynote address Friday at the San Antonio convention that diners want to eat sustainably and are seeking more ingredients that are organic, fresh, flavorful, authentic, seasonal and local.

"People want their animals to be happy until we slaughter them," he said.

Ripert, who recounted cooking with his family as early as age four and smelling the basil and breads in his local French markets, said he always wanted to be a chef.

"I was a very bad student to the point that at 15 years old, I was called to the principal with mom and dad," Ripert recalled. "He said, 'It's no more school for your kid; he has to find a career.' Of course, I was delighted and I finally could go to culinary school. All my life I wanted to be a chef."

Ripert also discussed:

Transparency: "People want to know what is in their food," Ripert said. "They look at the labeling more and more. Genetically modified foods are labeled in Europe but not in the United States." That, he added, "creates wide imagination. It creates borderline paranoia in some people."

Trends: More healthful and less processed food is big, Ripert said. Chefs are creating a fusion of cultures that show up on the plate, with much influence from Asia and South America.

Favorite cooking techniques: Poaching or baking are both excellent techniques for restaurants, Ripert said. "You can cook a lot of fish," he said. "And what we learn from the Asian chefs is that if you poach fish in rich bouillon, which is thicker than the juice of the fish, all the juice stays in the fish. And when you take it out, it's not dry. It's very moist."

Kitchen management: Ripert said he "was borderline intolerant" when he joined Le Bernardin 21 years ago, and admitted to having a temper.

"I learned the hard way very fast," he said. "After a few months, I lost most of the team. I was almost by myself and very sad. I changed totally how to manage a team and how to be a leader. You live by example and you lead by inspiring." He said most of his current management has been with him for 18 to 19 years. "We're aging together there happily," he said.

Menu philosophy: The fish is the star of the plate. "Whatever goes on the plate is to elevate the fish to the next level," said Ripert, whose menu at Le Bernardin emphasizes seafood.

Molecular cuisine: Ripert sees it as an evolution of nouvelle cuisine of the 1970s, which he said introduced individually plated food. Molecular gastronomy provided something new.

"The result was delicious food that surprised people," Ripert said. "Today it's really, I want to say, disappearing from the vocabulary of chefs," he said.

Even followers of molecular gastronomy pioneer Ferran Adria are moving on.

"The movement is integrated into a more classical way of cooking. It allows us to use those ingredients, those magic powders, and create a food that is lighter, that pays homage to the ingredients, but without the heaviness and the long process of cooking that we had before."

Television celebrity: "I enjoy tremendously the media because it allows me to share my knowledge and to understand myself the process of cooking better," he said, adding that his PBS show, "Avec Eric," allows him to demystify cooking and inspire people to be curious about products and their origins.

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