As some of you may know, I recently had the opportunity to meet two of my idols; Tony Bourdain and Eric Ripert. It was a ‘one night only’ of stories, advice, friendly chef banter, and a behind the scenes look at being both a professional and celebrity status adorned chef. As I sat in the third row from the stage, and watch Bourdain walk out, I am instantly surprised at how strangely long and large his head is. If TV adds 10lbs, it must be on his arms, cause this man is extremely tall, skinny, dressed in black, and with one very big noggin! He begins to thank the audience for their applause, seems for a moment, humbled and pleased with the turnout and quickly begins to introduce Eric Ripert. Chef Ripert, still behind the curtain, begins to emerge in full on laughter, for Bourdain has just opened up for him in a ‘roast’ like fashion. I think to myself, this is going to be good, and damn, Eric Ripert is a silver fox!
Both take turns at ‘hot seating’ each other, in an interrogation like fashion. They poke fun at one another’s careers, who they have become friends with in the business, whether they actually work at their restaurants anymore, and professional blunders that have been publicly talked about. The pair kicked off two hours of freewheeling conversation, one standing, the other in the hot seat at the center of the stage. Bourdain asked Ripert why he has spoken out against “Kitchen Nightmares’’ host Gordon Ramsay. “I’m scandalized by Ramsay’s treatment of people,’’ Ripert said. “At home or in work or in your car, who likes to be insulted? Who likes to be humiliated?’’ Bourdain tried to get Ripert to reveal who wins “Top Chef,’’ on which both men appear as guest judges. And he begged Ripert to “explain your unholy love for Guy Fieri,’’ the Food Network host. Then it was Ripert’s turn. “Do you think maybe the drugs have confused your critical abilities?’’ he asked, “No. Chefs are in the pleasure business. I just know my subject better than most”. Replied Bourdain. The audience roars in laughter. I am soaking it all up and laughing at every good jab, they each give each other.
Besides the chemistry that these two clearly have, one would think that they couldn’t possible have much in common; besides being chefs. Bourdain is rude and crude, and Ripert is just as elegantly spoken, as he looks. They begin to talk about their trials and tribulations of growing up in the industry, two very different ways. Bourdain, started as a teenager, busing dishes, doing simple prep and falling into the only thing he really felt like he knew how to do. After a full stint at the CIA, followed by a series of chef jobs here and there, one call from a producer at the travel channel changed his life forever. Ripert, traditionally French trained, ,entered into culinary school at the age of 17. He was worked hard, been verbally abused, well trained, and intensely disciplined; this is the French way of training and preparing for a successful culinary career. I would say that a 3 star Michelin rated restaurant, 6 times in a row, and considered one of the best restaurants in the world, would be partly to due with his classic French training. Le Bernadin in New York City is still operated and run by Chef Ripert.
They soon segway into a Q and A from the audience, and I think to myself, this audience came prepared; People are asking good questions. Bourdain responds to a question regarding his most recent trip and episode in Haiti. He educates us on how the Haitians are rebuilding, the mass graves, lack of resources, and a country of tortured hearts, he emotionally and powerfully gives the audience of four thousand people or so a serious lump in their throats. Bourdain, the entertainer that he is, swiftly turns a sad moment into that of an extremely great experience and chalks it up to knowing he has one of the best jobs in the world. We all agree, and move onto a question for Ripert.
For 2 hours I was extremely entertained, they talked about sustainable seafood, fast food chains, the Food Network, vegetarians vs vegans, organic food crusader Alice Waters, and what exactly ‘Farm to Table’ means. They also gave great advice to future culinarians; Tony’s best advice, “show up to work 15 minutes early”. Really Tony? That’s your best advice to someone in my position? Just show up to work a bit early? OK, I can do that…I am assuming there was more to this, but I will take it for what it’s worth and draw my own conclusions.
Following the event was a special VIP meet and greet, for about 200 guests, we were served very tasty apps, beer, and wine, and stood in line to meet our foodie greats! I spent too much time mingling with others and caught myself at basically the very end of the line. I was worried that it would take too long, and by the time I got there they’d shew me out and want to go home, but thankfully I was wrong and both were upbeat and engaging. I thanked the two of them for their honest insight, personal stories, and words of wisdom, I also let them know I was a culinary student and they smiled and asked where I went. Le Cordon Bleu I said, “ah that’s terrific” replied Ripert (in his sexy french accent). “What do you want to do when you are finished?” Bourdain asked me. I honestly answer “I change my mind everyday” I feel slightly embarrassed. He says “That is good! Explore every opportunity and you you will eventually figure it out” and wishes me luck. I walk away happy to have met my hero, and slightly sad I couldn’t sit there and talk his ear off, but he has given me some pretty basic advice, and he is right.