Spilling The Beans On Anthony Bourdain [A Conversation With BFF Chef Eric Ripert]

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Posted March 21, 2012 at 02:26 PM

Eric Ripert by Nigel Parry

Cast as “Good vs. Evil” for their speaking tour which comes to the Straz Center in Tampa on Sunday, Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain appear on the surface to be in direct contrast.

Ripert is a beloved four-star French-born chef at Le Bernardin in New York City. Sleek, silver-haired and precise as a neurosurgeon with his food, his Manhattan restaurant has held the top-rated spot in Zagat ratings for seven consecutive years. Bourdain is, well, Bourdain. The New-York-born and New Jersey-bred food writer and host of Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” is as likely to spit out a barbed-wire epithet as he is to make a pithy observation. The contrast between the two best-friends is something Bourdain toys with during their appearances.

Ripert recently talked about the tour and their friendship by phone from New York City.

Whose idea was it for this tour?

Anthony, of course.

How did he pitch this idea to you?

We’ve always had a good interaction, a good friendship going on for a long time. We like to tease each other and we like to share information. He comes from a different background than mine. We always interact like that. Anthony had the idea of translating that interaction into a show. Therefore we did eight cities. This year we’re doing about a dozen cities together.

Can you tell me how you first met?

We met when “Kitchen Confidential” came out. First there was an article that came out in the New Yorker and then a few months later, “Kitchen Confidential” came out and it was the talk of the town. I read the book and I was very pleased to see that he said nice things about Le Bernardin. So I invited him for lunch and it was the beginning of our interaction, and our friendship grew over the years.

Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert - Good Versus EvilIt’s one things to be friends in private, but to stand on a stage with him and interact, I imagine the first time you did that had to have been a different experience for you.

It’s definitely a different experience. He is very charismatic, very entertaining and very much himself onstage and captivates the audience. I think the interaction I have with him is beneficial for both of us. We have fun. The public can feel the fun we have and enjoy. We are entertaining and funny, but at the same time we share some of the.. what we call “cooking wisdom” that we have accumulated over the years.

You mentioned he teases you. What about?

“About being French. [laughs] He tries to make me look evil. That’s his game. And he tries to find the contradiction in me and share obviously during the show or with people or friends or with public in the theater. It’s the dynamic that we have onstage, trying to make me look bad and obviously I have to defend myself. It’s challenging because he’s touching the right nerve.

My game is to challenge his mental capabilities after doing so many drugs when he was young and challenge his palate since he smokes two packs of cigarettes a day. This is really what I try to do onstage.
After challenging ourselves, we sit down and discuss topics like sustainability, and sometimes we agree. Most of the times, actually, we do agree on serious subjects like that. But sometimes we disagree.

On what subjects do you disagree?

Um… we’ll have to keep that for the show, if we can. [laughs]

Now I know that you’re a performer. You’re saving things for the show.

Slowly, slowly. [laughs]

For instance I think some chefs have done an amazing job inspiring others. Sometimes, I don’t want to say any names, but he, while not disagreeing with me, will say that chef has a dark side.

Fifteen years ago, it would have been almost unimaginable to think you would have one show with two chefs talking about food, much less a tour. Does that strike you as significant?

No, I don’t think like that, but is true when you reflect on it, I would never think of something like that. Chefs were in the kitchen, they were very rarely on camera before the Food Network. Chefs did not have many restaurants, they were not in the media. They are not seen the way they are today. They did not have the influence they have today. Certainly they were not entertaining in theaters. Yes, the world has changed, but I cannot complain about that.

When you take questions and answers, what has been the most interesting questions you’ve had?

We’ve had people asking questions sometimes to Anthony what he does on No Reservations. We have people asking me about Le Bernardin and how to run a four-star restaurant. Sometimes we have questions for both of us about what kind of advice would you give to a young cook who wants to come into the industry. Obviously we advise the person with our own philosophy about it. But Anthony and I in that respect agree, but we respond differently. Anthony is Anthony.

Being Anthony Bourdain’s friend, I’m guessing, means having to explain what Anthony Bourdain is like, almost like an interpreter for him.

I’m not sure I’m an interpreter. I think he’s pretty articulate and not apologetic about what he says. I can certainly understand him and have a true friendship going on with him which is based on obviously and acceptance of our differences and what we share in common.

I guess what I was saying was that people probably ask you about him quite a bit.

Yes, people ask me a lot. He is exactly what he is on TV. Whatever you see is what you get. He is not trying to seduce you or charm you or scare you. He is what he is and if you don’t like it, he really doesn’t care.

People reflexively ask him questions about Paula Deen and Guy Fieri. Is there an equivalent for you? Is it the question about Gordon Ramsay?

The Gordon Ramsay question comes out of his mouth, but not all the time. I am obviously not a fan of Gordon Ramsay, not of his cuisine but him being on television and how he acts. I cannot accept that kind of behavior. [See related video here.]

Are there a certain type of Bourdain fans versus a certain type of Ripert fans? Do you attract different types?

I think we have a very diverse audience, which is interesting to see because there are a lot of young people and a lot of older people coming to the show. It means we reach out to a vast audience, I guess. At the end of the day, he’s really the one who attracts the audience. People come because it’s him. The fact that I am with him maybe brings another element. They come to have fun, of course, but maybe to have the perspective of someone else on the reality of our world.

I remember a cover of Food & Wine where you were portrayed as jumping off a drum kit with several other chefs.

It was “Gourmet.”

“Gourmet,” I apologize. I’m thinking about this tour and wondering if like a rock band you have certain things in your dressing room that you ask for.

Yes, Anthony asks for beer and I ask for Diet Coke. [laughs]

Is he a difficult person to travel with on tour? Or is he fairly easy going?

You know what struck me the most about him, no matter what situation or challenge we have, he never complains. Doesn’t show any sign of strain, any sign of being impatient, any sign of anything. That’s very impressive to me.

What about you? Do you like to complain?

Um, I’m cool. I’m chill, but I can complain easily. But he doesn’t. It’s very hardcore to do the tour, especially for him. I do much less than he does. You basically spend one night in one city. He’s very disciplined. You go from the plane to your hotel, from the hotel you eat something or go work in the town. Then you go to the theater, check the theater, go in the green room, go onstage. After the party, you go back to your hotel and the morning after you get on the plane again. It’s very tough to do that back to back to back. It’s unbelievable. It’s very demanding.

I’m the one who complains about the flashes in my eyes. [laughs] Because people take pictures and it’s burning my eyes. He doesn’t say anything about it. He doesn’t say it’s good, it hurts, it doesn’t hurt. He doesn’t say anything.

Eric Ripert taking a photo of Anthony Bourdain with a fan

I have a photo I shot of you at South Beach in 2007, where you are taking a photo of Anthony with a fan. I thought at the time that it’s not often you see a four-star chef being asked to play photographer.

I do it that all the time. I take pictures of him all the time. [laughs]


Eric Ripert talks about “Avec Eric.” [Table Conversations]

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