Anthony Bourdain likes to joke that he always cooks bacon when vegetarians come to his house, as he knows the smell is so enticing to make bacon “the gateway protein.” Eric Ripert, on the other hand, won’t even take the bait when an interviewer (yours truly) dangles the question, “In the well-considered Daily Meal’s list of the best restaurants in America that came out in February, your restaurant Le Bernardin was in third place … behind two Thomas Keller restaurants (Per Se and The French Laundry). Does that seem fair to you that Keller is hogging the two top spots?”
Instead, Ripert, frequent Top Chef judge and host of his own PBS show, Avec Eric, said, “It’s well-deserved, Keller’s accolades. I was very honored to be right behind Thomas. To be third to him is quite good. We don’t take our ratings or awards or stars for granted. We certainly celebrate, but on a daily basis, we don’t think about it. We think about making a great experience for our clients.”
While Bourdain is the cooking world’s resident bad boy, Ripert might be his opposite, and that’s why an afternoon with the two of them sharing their views should be fascinating. UCSB Arts & Lectures has such a gig lined up on Sunday, May 1, when the duo will take the Arlington stage a little more than two years from when Bourdain alone regaled a sold-out crowd there.
“We start the show, Anthony grills me, he sits me in one of the most uncomfortable chairs he finds in your theater, and then we switch, and I torture him,” Ripert explained. “We both discuss some things together after that. Then there’s a question-and-answer with the people in the room. People are amazingly engaged and ask many questions—it’s a lot of interaction and a lot of fun. It comes down to Anthony’s vision versus my vision, which are very different but sometimes similar. At the end I think no one can say one of us is right and one wrong; it’s just different points of view.”
Ripert’s point of view is centered in his French technique, which has helped him earn three Michelin stars and a four-star New York Times review (for four consecutive visits and more than 10 years) at New York’s Le Bernardin, generally acclaimed the best seafood restaurant in the U.S. He’s become more of a foodie-household name, thanks to his appearances on Top Chef, where, unlike the feisty Bourdain, he suggested, “I’m trying to help the contestants in my comments to do better. When you judge like me, it’s not that difficult. You just come in last minute, have no interaction with the contestants, just taste the food and decide whether it’s good or not and try to convince the other judges why you think the way you do. It’s like a vacation.”
For the just-completed Season 8, he had less of a presence, since Jennifer Carroll was a contestant, and she’s executive chef at 10 Arts Bistro & Lounge in the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia, another restaurant he owns. He did blog for Bravo TV about each episode, but he said, “Basically, they came to Le Bernardin to tape each segment, as the studio is two blocks away. It was really easy. My comments were just as a viewer since I wasn’t tasting the food.” In his typical understated way, he doesn’t do his comments justice, for not only were they level-headed, but they also offered extra kitchen tips, like the best way to get conch out of its shell (if only the contestants had known that while still competing in the Bahamas).
Ripert also fessed up to what he wanted for his last supper (the theme of a challenge on Top Chef this season)—a simple, elegant meal of truffles shaved over bread and a fine Bordeaux. While, on the aired episode, Wolfgang Puck and Masaharu Morimoto wanted childhood meals recreated, it seem as if Ripert’s was more adult. Still, he admitted, “It’s not a childhood memory—almost. I actually had a passion for truffles at a young age, and my parents allowed me to drink wine, not in the alcoholic way, but to see the beauty of it.” Ah, the glories of growing up French, I guess.
And if the conversation with the two isn’t enough for you, A&L has cooked up an overtime event at Joe’s Café featuring many of the best chefs in Gene Montesano’s culinary empire—talents from Joe’s, Lucky’s Steakhouse, Café Luck, Tre Lune, Bucatini, and D’Angelo’s Bakery. “We are so excited to bring Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert to our foodie community for the public lecture and to partner with Gene Montesano on the party at Joe’s, a Santa Barbara landmark,” said Arts & Lectures Executive Director Celesta Billeci. “The benefit event is a great opportunity to party with two of today’s most recognizable celebrity chefs, sample delicacies made by some of Santa Barbara’s own ‘Top Chefs,’ and support Arts & Lectures at the same time.”
Chefs Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert speak on Sunday, May 1, at 4 p.m. at the Arlington Theatre (1313 State St.). For tickets ($18-$63), call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu. For tickets ($250) to the party/benefit for Arts & Lectures at Joe’s Café, call 893-3465.