Top Chefs Who Love Cigars

Chef José Andrés of Washington, D.C.
Chef José Andrés of Washington, D.C.

Some of the world’s most famous chefs indulge in the pleasures of a fine, handmade cigar

They are names any food lover will instantly recognize: José Andrés of Jaleo in Washington, D.C. Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin in New York City. Emeril Lagasse of Emeril's in New Orleans. Thomas Keller of The French Laundry in Yountville, California. Charlie Palmer of Aureole in Manhattan. Marc Vetri of Vetri Ristorante in Philadelphia. Michael Cimarusti of Providence in Los Angeles. Geoffrey Zakarian of The Lambs Club in New York. Each of these star chefs shares more than the acclaim of critics, fame and success in the tough world of the restaurant business. Each of them has a passion for enjoying handmade, premium cigars.
Cigar Aficionado reached out to this group of star chefs to share their stories and find out why they love cigars.
José Andrés
Washington, D.C.
Chef José Andrés is in perpetual motion, a blur of hands as he speaks with talk show host Ellen Degeneres. "Caipirinha is lime juice, freshly squeezed, with cachaça," Andrés says of the Brazilian cocktail. "It's a liquor," which comes out as "li-KWOR" in his clear, strong Spanish accent. Andrés tells the TV host they're going to make a frozen caipirinha. But there's no blender on stage, no tub of ice.
"Why do we have goggles?" Degeneres asks. The studio audience is laughing. A bit nervously. "Oh, yeah, put on the goggles. I forgot," Andrés says, still moving. "We're using liquid nitrogen." He lifts a canister, holding it as if it were a weapon. "Liquid nitrogen!" he repeats.
Degeneres gulps audibly. "OK," she says.
Chef and host pour the caipirinha mixture into bowls, then add the 300°-below-zero liquid. Fog billows as they whisk.
"Can you see anything?" Andrés asks. "I cannot see anything!" Degeneres screams.
Finally, Andrés spoons a bit of the frozen concoction into Degeneres's mouth. All she can say is: "Wow!"
This is simple stuff for Andrés, who dropped out of high school to study with Ferran Adrià, the Spanish master of molecular gastronomy. Andrés, 47, taught culinary physics at Harvard and has menus full of creative dishes like a "liquid olive," and cotton candy around eel.
"Cotton candy is the most amazing form of caramelization ever invented by man," Andrés exclaims in a whisper, an illusionist seducing his audience. Most chefs build dishes ingredient by ingredient; Andrés takes them apart, deconstructing to create food that sometimes floats at you and sometimes explodes.
"Eating has to be fun," Andrés believes. At the same time, he says, a chef can "put a lot of thought behind what the food means to you." Take the spoon of his caramelized popcorn that was "cooked" in liquid nitrogen. Put it in your mouth. Fog comes out your nose as you swallow.
Andrés is certainly having fun. And he considers himself "selfish" when he cooks. He has to please himself. If he doesn't, he says, "it's impossible I will be able to please you."
Andrés is also pleased when he can enjoy cigars, particularly Cohiba Behikes and Fuente Fuente OpusX. "I like to smoke cigars after a big meal," Andrés explains. "Usually I will skip dessert for a cigar. I mainly enjoy them in summer- time, and I love them when it is raining. When it rains, I go outside my home, in the porch, and I love to light one as I watch the beautiful rain come down."
Andrés is credited with propelling tapas, small-plates dining, in the United States when he opened Jaleo in Washington, D.C., in 1993. His ThinkFoodGroup owns such renowned dining concepts as Zaytinya, minibar by José Andrés, barmini, Oyamel, China Chilcano, Pepe, Beefsteak and America Eats Tavern in the Washington, D.C., area; The Bazaar by José Andrés, SAAM, Tres and Bar Blanca in Los Angeles; The Bazaar in Miami Beach; plus é by José Andrés, China Poblano, Bazaar Meat (which has a cigar menu) and Jaleo in Las Vegas. He has even more restaurants outside the United States.
The chef took note after Donald Trump made his famous comments about Mexican immigrants—who make up the staff in many restaurants. Andrés canceled his deal with Trump to open a restaurant. Trump sued, and Andrés countersued. The suits are unresolved.
Though Spanish born, Andrés is now a U.S. citizen, and says he feels like an American who studied cooking in Spain. He even served as the U.S. culinary ambassador during President Obama's trip to Cuba in March.
"I had to have a cigar," he admitted. "The best place was La Floridita [in Havana]. Their daiquiris are to die for.... La Floridita is the place, to me, that if you are lucky enough to have a cigar there, you should."
-Alejandro Benes
Chefs Who Love Cigars
Photo/Ball & Albanese
Eric Ripert
New York
Eric Ripert is getting his feet wet. The chef-owner of Le Bernardin, the acclaimed seafood restaurant in New York that is ranked among the world's finest, is wearing a T-shirt and shorts on a beach in the Cayman Islands, exchanging deep thoughts about cooking with Chef José Andrés as they smoke cigars and drink wine. Later, the chef whom the New York Times bestowed four stars for running "a high church of reverently prepared fish" is enthusing about a dish that's a polar opposite to what he serves nightly at Le Bernardin—country ham with red-eye gravy.
It's a scene from "Avec Eric," Ripert's TV show, part of his personal exploration, his journey, with chef friends as guests in which he lets his well-coiffed gray hair down.
"We totally ignore the cameras and have the same fun that we do in real life, indulging and feeding our curiosity about discovering other cultures and adventures," he says with an easy laugh, his perfect English layered with a thick French accent.
Ripert's blue eyes betray mischief, but he's a practicing Buddhist with a soulful side. "I like to feel what I do," he wrote in his cookbook. "When I cook a carrot, I become that carrot. If I don't feel the food, I will only be a great technician, never a great chef."
The four-course $147 prix fixe menu at Le Bernardin is divided into three sections. The first, starters, is "almost raw" and offers oysters, caviar and salmon, as well as unique creations such as "geoduck sashimi," made from a very large clam and seasoned elegantly. "Barely touched" is followed by "lightly cooked" main courses. Small but decadent desserts round out the menu. "Obviously, it's the search for perfection," Ripert says.
Part of that search is tasting, and Ripert tastes perhaps 20 sauces daily. He calls it the most important part of running the restaurant. Ripert bites a cube of Swiss cheese before dipping a small spoon into each sauce. "This way, I know what I am tasting," he recently told a reporter. "The cheese is always the same, but if it feels salty or bland, I know my palate is off."
Unlike many celebrity chefs, Ripert has purposely avoided becoming a brand.  A chef in New York, he explains, cannot check the sauces in Los Angeles every day. Ripert's "empire" includes a small wine bar in New York in the courtyard across from Le Bernardin. There's also a restaurant, Blue, in the Cayman Islands at the Ritz-Carlton resort.
"I decided my journey would be in three parts," Ripert says. "It would be one-third for myself, one-third for my family, and one-third for my business."
Every afternoon, Ripert sits down to a meal with his sous chefs.  They all wear kitchen whites and usually eat something not on the menu.
"I like to share with sous chefs the importance of yesterday's wisdom," Ripert says.
Ripert could play the movie role of the successful French chef he is in real life, with cigar in hand.
"When I was in culinary school, we were allowed to smoke outside," Ripert recalls. "Once a week, we'd have cigar evening on the patio. I was actually the one to purchase the cigars—from my home in Andorra where they were less expensive—and distribute them to my classmates."
Ripert enjoys his cigars "on vacations and on weekends, one in the morning and one in the evening," loves Cubans such as the Cohiba Esplendido and Montecristo No. 2, as well as "any of the Padrón cigars" from Nicaragua.
"Sometimes I will share cigars with friends," Ripert says, "but mostly I prefer to enjoy them alone. It is a very selfish time of mine to have personal moments of reflection with a cigar, so nothing exciting usually happens."
-A.B.
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