Le Bernardin's Eric Ripert has been garnering great reviews and accolades for 20 years. And he loves his cigars
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He doesn't like to go to cigar dinners, he says, because he doesn't want to share the experience with a roomful of people. "Cigars are something I like to share intimately with a couple of friends, or, very selfishly, by myself. It's all about taking the time and slowing the pace. I like the ritual. You go to your humidor and open it, you check the humidity, you find a cutter. And then I light the cigar."
These days, Ripert is branching out. He is a consultant for two restaurants at the Ritz-Carlton in Grand Cayman, called Blue and Periwinkle, which he describes as Le Bernardin in the Caribbean, "much more casual, with the same spirit and approach as Le Bernardin," but with a Caribbean flair at Blue and a touch of the Mediterranean at Periwinkle. And he and restaurateur Stephen Hanson are partners in Barca 18, a Spanish/tapas restaurant at Park Avenue South and East 18th Street in Manhattan.
Ripert has also recently signed a contract with PBS for a television series called "Harvest," for which he will be traveling around the United States and heading to Puerto Rico, Argentina, Italy and Morocco, among other places. "I will be in contact with and inspired by people who are cultivating the land—growing, hunting, fishing. And we will be heavily promoting organic food and sustainability. I will hook up with farmers and chefs, visit with them to establish a connection with what they do, and then go somewhere and cook, sometimes with them and sometimes just me." Ripert has accomplished a great deal in his 41 years. But, he says, he never looks back. "I never think too much about the past, really," he says. "I don't even take pictures and look at them. Thank God my wife does that, so we have pictures of our vacations. I don't mean I'm not happy to see them a few years later. But I really prefer to live in the present, to focus on what's happening at this moment. It's a very zen approach. And it makes sense to me."
Ripert rises from the conference table to see what is happening in his kitchen and restaurant. He takes an elevator to the main floor. At Le Bernardin, it's hard not to focus on the golden walls with their paintings that illustrate the multiple aspects of the sea, and the tropical hanging heliconia (also called, appropriately, lobster claw) that emerge from giant vases and hint at the exotic yet subtle flavors to come.
But one's eyes ultimately turn to the staff. The maitre d', waiters, sommelier and busboys all glide along on a sea of near-perfection, performing their twice-a-day ballet. It's a scene that has been going on for two decades. And that is likely to continue for a long time.
Mervyn Rothstein is an editor at The New York Times.