Image courtesy of Eric Ripert on Twitter.
When Gilbert Le Coze, Le Bernardin’s 48 year-old chef, died suddenly from a heart attack Eric Ripert, the restaurant’s 29 year-old Executive Chef was asked to step up. In the world of four-star restaurants, Ripert insists that the show must go on, and food service stops for nothing, not even a death. Ripert learned of Le Coze’s death while working for a charity event at the James Beard House, but he did not tell anyone, confident that “that is what Gilbert would have wanted,” for the party to continue. For the same reason, Le Bernardin was open for lunch and dinner service the very next day. “For me the priority is Le Bernardin,” said Ripert. And Gilbert would certainly have agreed.
Gilbert Le Coze, together with his sister Maguy, brought to America a revolutionary cooking style he developed in Paris — preparing fish in ways tailored to each particular species, and letting the distinctive character of the fish come through, rather than indiscriminately shrouding them all with cream and butter. In his wake, Ripert has remained faithful to this vision of the freshest fish in the lightest, most fragrant sauces. But he has also brought his own culinary inspirations to the menu, infusing more unusual spices and flavors into the old classics.
Ripert, originally from Andorra, has merged his native Mediterranean flavors with his mentor’s impeccable technique. While signature items such as the raw fish appetizers — flash-marinated black bass ceviche with cilantro, mint, and jalapenos, and tuna tartare — keep their place on the menu, Ripert has also created a coconut-marinated swordfish laced with curry and served with fried basmati rice, and a lobster consommé afloat with chunks of black truffle and slices of foie gras.
Critics, patrons, and ratings all confirm that Ripert is holding his own for Le Bernardin; with the dedicated support of Maguy Le Coze, he has maintained the restaurant’s New York Times four-star rating. And while Ripert hopes that in ten years he will be able to retire, to visit museums, read, and cook only for friends, he is thrilled with the success of the restaurant. And all concerned are thrilled that Le Bernardin really is his priority right now.