Who’s Here In The Hamptons: Chef Eric Ripert

Internationally acclaimed chef Eric Ripert gives back to his community. Luckily, for East Enders, that community includes us—Ripert and his family have been summering out here for over a decade now. He and his wife Sandra and son Adrien are spending this season in Sag Harbor. Don’t be surprised if you see Ripert walking down Main Street. You might also spot his handsome face at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett or at the Water Mill Center Summer Benefit.

Adrien attends the camp at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton. And, on July 28, Ripert will be one of the featured chefs at the seventh annual Great Chefs Dinner also at the Hayground School. The event benefits the school’s Jeff’s Kitchen and the Jeff Salaway Scholarship Fund. Ripert will help to create a memorable four-course meal with wine pairings.

Back in New York, Ripert chairs the City Harvest’s Food Council and is president of the Jean-Louis Palladin Foundation. He has served as guest chef at the French Embassies in Mexico and Venezuela and for the New York City Ballet.

When I asked what first drew him to the East End of Long Island he said, “I was curious to discover the Hamptons when I first heard everyone talking about it coming up to summer. I was eager to see it and when I visited for the first time, I found the beauty in it.”

Ripert’s legendary Manhattan restaurant Le Bernardin focuses on modern French cuisine and is perhaps best known for its seafood dishes, so I asked Ripert if he goes fishing when he’s on the East End. He said, “I don’t fish! I cook it, but don’t catch it!”

Ripert was born in Antibes in 1965 and first learned to cook from his grandmother. From the age of 17 he worked in top kitchens in Paris. Ripert attended the culinary school in Perpignan. In 1989 he moved to America to work in the Watergate Hotel’s Jean Louis Palladin restaurant. In 1991 Ripert moved to New York to work with David Bouley. Then, in 1994, Ripert became Le Bernardin’s executive chef and the rest, as they say, is history. In 1996 he became part owner of this, his flagship restaurant.

Having received the maximum four stars from The New York Times and three Michelin Guide stars as well as multiple awards from the James Beard Foundation, Ripert is the real deal, one of the top-most, serious French chefs in the world. But he’s not so serious that he doesn’t spend time goofing around with his buddy Anthony Bourdain, notorious star of the jetsetting foodie  television show No Reservations. (Bourdain and his family are also summering here this season.) And Ripert’s not so serious that he doesn’t make cameo appearances in the uber popular HBO series Treme: he does. He plays himself. Ripert also famously appeared on “Great Chefs,” “Top Chef” and on numerous episodes of “No Reservations.”

As a foodie myself I was fascinated to know what Ripert values in our East End culinary world. I asked him what some of his favorite East End  ingredients are and he said, “Vegetables—they are a given, and some of the seafood. And actually, I also like some of the wine being produced right now. I have been a supporter of Wolffer Estate for a while now and Christian was a friend as well. I like Channing Daughters wines and think the North Fork does a great job of producing some good wines and in some cases, some exceptional bottles.” Ripert uses the best ingredients in order to prepare them “the way they are,” to the delight of his many fans.

What product or crop he would suggest the East End try to produce—that we don’t already produce in abundance? “I don’t see too many fruits—such as apricots, peaches, figs…these are mostly southern fruits and I am not sure the trees would survive in the winter, but if they did, it would be great to see some local fruits like these.” I’ll have to make a gift of some of our local Turkish figs when they come into season soon.

I asked Ripert if he feels a responsibility to help people make better eating choices. He replied, “I don’t believe it’s my sole responsibility as a chef, but on a personal level—absolutely. I definitely like to take the time and share my cooking knowledge of ingredients to prepare better, healthy food.” Clearly Ripert is not dogmatic in his health consciousness. He smokes cigars and has been backyard barbequing all summer.

I asked him if he ever imagined that chefs in America would be renowned as the celebrities they are today. He said, “No—but it’s a good thing. It creates awareness for different foods and cultures.

Ripert’s cookbooks include Le Bernardin Cookbook (1998), A Return to Cooking (2002), On the Line: The Stations, the Heat, the Cooks, the Costs, the Chaos and the Triumphs (2008) and Avec Eric: A Culinary Journey with Eric Ripert (2010). Recently he launched a series of brief online cooking videos called “Get Toasted” on his website AVECERIC.com, which focuses on easy and quick meals that can be prepared and cooked in minutes with a toaster oven. PBS has aired “Avec Eric” episodes featuring Ripert traveling the world.

It’s always gratifying to know that a great chef shares some of your favorite restaurants. Ripert and I share a love of the Dockside in Sag Harbor, Serafina in East Hampton, Pierre’s in Bridgehampton and Sant Ambroeus in Southampton.

I asked Ripert if anything about the East End of Long Island particularly reminded him of France. He said, in his enigmatic French way, “I love the fact that the East End looks like the East End, and France looks like France. They have some similarities but when I am in the Hamptons, I want it to look like the Hamptons!”

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