What Does the Future Hold for Eric Ripert? Coffee, for Starters.
One of the best chefs in the world talks morning routine, reopening and putting his name on a bag of joe
Eric Ripert doesn’t put his name on just anything.
So when the head chef and co-owner of New York’s iconic Le Bernardin — consistently ranked among the best restaurants in the world, and currently holding a four-star ranking from the New York Times, as well as three Michelin stars — is willing to collaborate on a new coffee, as he did with friend Johan Pesenti of Stone Street Coffee, you can trust him when he says it’s excellent.
“I want to make sure that everybody understands that I’m doing that coffee because I love it very much,” Ripert tells InsideHook over the phone. “I’m very passionate about it. Obviously it’s a business, and I’m selling the coffee with Johan, but I don’t put my name easily on items and you don’t find my products everywhere, like pots and pans and things. I do it when I find something exceptional, and this is exceptional.”
We caught up with the chef to learn more about the Stone Street Signature x Eric Ripert coffee collaboration — which features direct trade, single-estate and certified organic beans from Central & South America roasted locally in Brooklyn — as well as how he’s been spending his quarantine, what it’s been like reopening Le Bernardin and what every home chef should do when cooking a small holiday meal this month.
Tell me a little bit about how this collaboration with Stone Street Coffee came to be and what inspired you to do it.
Four years ago, in 2016, I met Johan Pesenti, who was the owner of the company that makes the coffee for us. He’s from the South of France, from the same region where I was born. We used to talk and he mentioned to me that he was in the coffee business and we built a relationship, almost a friendship, between him and I. I was, for a long time, yearning to have a very good coffee at Le Bernardin and I was not necessarily satisfied with the coffee I had. We worked together to come up with a brand that is … I don’t want to call it a brand. It’s a product, it’s a coffee that is delicious that I love and that I’m very proud to sell at Le Bernardin, and now we are selling the same coffee to the public.
How did you wind up selecting the beans that you used for the coffee? What was that process like?
I’m not an expert like Johan. When I see a coffee bean, I don’t know what’s going to come up in terms of flavor from the coffee beans. He is really passionate and very knowledgeable about it. So I was really relying on his expertise to come up with the coffee, with the profile, the flavor profile that I like. I’m talking about a coffee that is rich, if it’s on espresso, a coffee that has a good foam, a crema on top, a coffee that is a strong but refined and with no bitterness. I was mentioning all of those characteristics to him, and he was basically making blends for me. We were trying the coffee together and I was giving my feedback to him and we came up with a coffee that I enjoy at home, I enjoy at Le Bernardin and that again, is commercialized now.
Well, since we’re talking about coffee and drinking it is a big part of most people’s morning routines, I’m curious: what does your morning routine look like, and has it changed recently due to the pandemic?
Well, my coffee routine is the same. [laughs] That hasn’t changed at all. I’m the first one to be up in the family. It’s interesting because I drink different types of coffee during the day. I wake up and I drink decaf coffee, then I have regular coffee midday. And then in late afternoon and beginning of the evening, I have an espresso. But I always start with a decaf coffee because I meditate every morning, and I don’t want to have too much caffeine when I go meditate. So I make for my wife a regular coffee and for me the decaf. Then it’s interesting because I’m the first one to be up, like I mentioned, so I like to take about 30, 45 minutes to drink my cup of coffee. I need to have a very narrow and high cup with a top so it keeps the temperature. I sip on my coffee and it gives me 45 minutes of pleasure alone with no noise, nothing, just the coffee and I. Then when I drink the coffee midday, usually I am at work already and someone makes it for me, and then the espresso, it’s late afternoon around 4 or 5 and then sometimes another one around 6.
You mentioned decaf, and some people tend to have a preconceived notion about decaf coffee, that it’s less flavorful than regular coffee. Do you have a favorite?
This coffee is great. The decaf that we have is really, really good. No, it doesn’t lack in any flavor. I also tried the decaf espresso many times, and it’s really unbelievable. It’s impossible to make a difference in between the caffeinated coffee and the decaf coffee.
I know that during the pandemic you have been working a lot with World Central Kitchen and City Harvest to prepare meals. How has it been doing that on top of running the restaurant now that you’ve reopened?
It’s very rewarding because we know we can make a difference. City Harvest basically brings us some produce and then we create those meals for World Central Kitchen with their support as well. If you follow my Instagram, it’s a protein, produce and a starch. We serve very nice portions of salmon or chicken or sometimes it’s ground meat or other fish. Two or three times a week, it’s fish and meat. We vary every day, something different. Then Bowery Mission comes and picks it up and brings it to the shelter.
What has the response in the restaurant from customers been like since you’ve reopened?
People are very happy to be back and they’re very happy to support us. We have a very good ambiance in the restaurant. People feel very safe because we have a very good protocol for the safety of our clientele. We have special machinery in the ceiling that are basically linked to our heating system and the air conditioning system, and that basically kills the virus. Then we have masks and gloves and distance in between the tables. It’s much more than six feet. We have, I think, the right model and people like that very much and they’re very grateful.
Do you worry about being forced to close back up again if cases continue to spike in New York City?
It’s a possibility. I mean, obviously the decision will come from the government, and we know that it could happen, we are aware of that. However, we don’t want to think about it now until the decision is done because we want to focus on what we love to do, which is create an experience for the clients. We don’t want to be down and thinking about closing. But if we have to close, obviously we will close the restaurant, of course.
You also were posting a lot of recipes or instructional videos to social media during the pandemic for people who are cooking at home. What inspired you to do that?
Well, basically I was like everybody else, right? We were in lockdown and I had limited supplies compared to what I get usually and when I was going to the store, it was not easy to find what I liked, so I was trying to find food that was nutritious. And then I thought, “Since I’m cooking for the family lunch and dinner, it would be maybe a good idea to show them that you can have limited supplies and you can cook simply, but do something delicious.” I was trying to post every day during that period of time, at least one recipe a day. The idea was to help people or to give them ideas, not necessarily to do the same recipe, but give them ideas of what they could do to feed their family with, again, a budget for most of the people, and also again, limited access to produce and meat and fish.
Obviously the holidays are coming up and a lot of people are going to be either hosting a very small gathering or even just cooking themselves and maybe one other person. Do you have any tips or advice for people who maybe have never prepared a holiday meal before if they’re doing some sort of small holiday meal in quarantine?
Well, that’s a vast subject because it depends if someone is on the budget or not or if it’s feeding only two people or feeding four or six people. What I like to say is that when I cook at home and I entertain, I basically try to find the recipes that will allow me to spend the maximum time at the table with my guests. I do think that either they are ready when the guests arrive or almost, and then it takes a very few minutes to get ready and then I can enjoy my guests and my guests can enjoy my company as well. I recommend to choose something like that. So let’s suppose you want to do maybe like a lobster bisque because lobster bisque, you can do it in advance. You just have to reheat it and you can pour it on the plate very easy, and it’s luxurious. It could be a chowder or any other soup, but if you do something like that, and I’m giving you an example, but it’s something that obviously it’s simple to do. Then I recommend, usually during the holidays, people like to roast a turkey for Thanksgiving as we know, or poultry or things like that. That’s a good idea to do it before, again, and you just have to slice at the last minute. You have all your vegetables and your sauce ready. That’s where, again, it’s most fast. It’s not good when the guests feel the stress of the cook. When you’re hosting and they see you being erratic, it’s not a good feeling for you, but for them as well. So I recommend that, to be organized previously.
Obviously there’s so much uncertainty right now just about the restaurant industry in general and how it will be able to bounce back from the pandemic. What do you think the future holds? How long do you think this will go on before restaurants are able to start returning to normal eventually?
Well, the vaccine. The vaccine will definitely have a huge impact. We know that it’s already two vaccines that seem to be very efficient. Now we don’t know when people will be able to get those vaccines, and I anticipate probably the spring that people will start to have it easily. I don’t see anything coming back to really normal until the summer or maybe the fall of 2021. I think it’s going to be an uptick and very difficult to manage the winter months. The spring may bring a bit of comfort, but I think it will be challenging. And also the fact that we have the COVID crisis, I believe also has a huge impact on the economy, not necessarily Wall Street because Wall Street seems to do well, but I know that a lot of people are affected by it by losing their job or having smaller salaries or incomes and things like that. In between the potential financial crisis and the end of the COVID, it will take time for us to come back to normal.
Stone Street Signature x Eric Ripert is currently available to the public via Amazon and stonestreetcoffee.com.
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