Behind the Line @ Le Bernardin

I got the opportunity to spend two days in the kitchen of Le Bernardin this week to learn new tricks and find some fresh inspiration. There’s no need to introduce this one-of-the-kind restaurant since Chef Eric Ripert is a regular fixture on popular shows on television and has earned the highest distinctions in the restaurant industry for the longest time. I brought my camera along with me and asked the chef if it was okay to snap a few photos throughout the day: “Of course, whatever you want” was the answer. So here we are…

Chris Muller is the executive chef in charge of all aspects of the kitchen at Le Bernardin, from ordering the food, to hiring new cooks, to making sure that every dish leaving the kitchen meets the levels of excellence set by Eric Ripert. It’s not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination but his management skills are so tight that the kitchen works with the precision of a Swiss watch. Nothing is left to chance since they all know it’s war every day at noon and 8 pm.

The kitchen of Le Bernardin is a culinary think-tank where much research has been done on every recipe and technique but knowledge is shared freely and generously with anyone who’s lucky to be there. I went over all the sauces with Chef Muller, making them from scratch one by one, with an in-depth explanation on the specifics of each one. All 24 sauces are made fresh before each service since some of them lose their depth after sitting for a few hours, the less-stable ones sometimes need to be made twice during the course of a service. Some need to be “reinforced” when he finds them “too weak”.

One dish I was particularly fond of was the Charred Octopus with fermented black-bean sauce vierge with a squid ink-miso vinaigrette. The octopus is braised in a rich chorizo braising liquid first and kept in a miso marinade before being charred to order.

The menu is divided into three sections: almost raw, barely touched and lightly cooked, and the kitchen is organized in a similar manner with the garde manger on one side, the hot apps station in the middle and the fish/sauce stations on the other side with the pastry lab of Michael Laiskonis in the back. There’s 4 chef de partie at each station which makes this kitchen a bit cramped during the heat of service.

The silver platters are laid out by the wait staff on the pass so the plates of the entire table can leave together. On the left is the calamari filled with sweet prawns and shiitake mushroom, with a pistou sauce and a mushroom froth. The other one is a fluke sashimi with crispy kimchi in a chilled citrus, soy, jalapeno nage that is poured at the table.

Eric Gestel is the long time executive sous-chef at Le Bernardin and at his side a team of five sous-chefs working closely with the cooks in the different sections of the kitchens to check the quality of the mise en place, the cooking and the plating during service. Before the plates reach the customers they are inspected again by Chris Muller or Eric Gestel at the pass where they get checked for temperature and appearance before getting the finishing touches and garnishes.

Eric Ripert is never too far from the action. He comes during service with a spoon in hand to taste whatever they have going at that moment, making sure to have a friendly word with everyone along the way. And of course, being the celebrity that he is, he’s often interrupted by customers visiting the kitchen looking to take a picture with him.

I’ve been in quite a few fancy kitchens over the years and this one strikes me as one of the most kind, human and civilized i’ve seen so far. This is a culinary school of the highest level where everyone is given a chance no matter their background.

On a pastry side Michael Laiskonis creates little wonders of taste and architecture. Black sesame panna cotta with pain de genes, sour cherry sphere, shiso and mandarin sorbet is just one them. A true artist of pastry. Now don’t tell me you don’t want to go and explore for yourself.

If you liked this post, you may also want to check out:

  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Google Bookmarks
  • StumbleUpon
  • email

Tags:

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Minaki/560410552 Peter Minaki

    Lucky you, Chef Eric Ripert was most kind to allow you into the kitchen to snap some pics. Tell me which octopus was more tender – this or the Greek one at Pylos? ;)

  • Grace Yang

    Amazing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=740489537 Christo Gonzales

    I have asked to come back as you when I die – lets see how that works out.

  • http://twitter.com/IndonesiaEats Indonesia Eats

    Envy you for being able to take some pic there!

  • http://ravenouscouple.blogspot.com Ravenouscouple

    we were one of those customers interrupting him on a recent dinner! :) what an amazing write up and experience this must have been.

  • http://mytastyhandbook.com Adelina

    Very impressive! Thanks for the insider trading info. I can’t believe the count of sauce they need to make. Where is your pic with Eric? :)

  • Haumea

    Amazing!!!!

  • Trissa

    You are so lucky to have had this opportunity! Well, you are so talented am sure they learned a trick or two from you!

  • http://www.ouichefnetwork.com Oui, Chef

    I have been loving your series of behind-the-line visits, they are just fascinating. How ever do you manage to get access to these world class kitchens? – S

  • http://www.ouichefnetwork.com Oui, Chef

    Some of the finest meals I have ever had have been at Le Bernardin, EVERYTHING has always been absolutely perfect. – S

  • http://www.dinnersanddreams.net Nisrine M.

    I wish I could visit such a professional kitchen and take pics. I’m a bit jealous.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1405246165 Frank A Fariello Jr

    You are indeed a lucky man! And I’m impressed that Eric is still working the kitchen, celebrity notwithstanding.

  • http://colloquialcooking.com Colloquial Cook

    Moué, bon Eric Rippert c’est très bien, mais on attend tous (heu, toutes) de pied ferme le Behind the Line@Christophe Felder. Chriiiistooooooophe!

  • Courtney

    That is an amazing experience. So glad you had this rare op. From what I have seen Rupert strikes me as a true gentleman in the kitchen.

  • Stacey Snacks

    The food is 5 star at Le Bernardin, that’s why it has survived thru the closings of so many high end restaurants i the city.

    The silver platters say it all. I love this place.
    What’s next in the secret chef behind the scenes tour?
    I want more please!

  • http://twitter.com/foodalogue Joan Nova

    Thanks for sharing that with us. Not many people get invited behind the scenes and I was impressed the visuals and seeing the Chef actually there and tasting.

  • http://twitter.com/UnrivaledKitch Kimberly Fujitaki

    I’m very jealous! The kitchen looks so beautiful. Everything there is so precise and delicate, a true vision of culinary arts. I look through the pages of on the line by Eric Ripert, one of my favorite culinary books and I could only imagine being in that kitchen. What a dream come true. I’m so happy you got to experience that. The best culiary school is always in a successful professional kitchen. thanks so much for sharing. Cheers

  • http://itsnotyouitsbrie.com It’s not you it’s brie

    Any chef that knows their way around an octopus has my vote. Skills.

  • Ciaochowlinda

    You have just lived my dream – getting into the kitchen at Le Bernardin to photograph, to taste, to learn. One of the best meals I ever ate was at Le Bernardin, from amuse bouche to mignardise, it was a divine evening. bravo for your post and bravo to Eric Ripert.

  • http://vanillasugarblog.com vanillasugarblog

    ohhh lucky you. please say there will be a part 2?

  • http://www.beyondtheplate.net Danielle

    What a fascinating post. I always love peeking at restaurant kitchens, observing how the team works together because that’s where the ‘magic’ really happens. Lovely photos!

  • http://www.mirauncut.com Mirauncut

    wowza…great experience. I’m totally jealous :P

  • http://foodandscent.com Eugene @ Food and Scent

    Great post and photos. I’m glad they allowed your camera backstage. This makes me look forward to starting at Le Cordon Bleu someday!

  • http://carolinaepicurean.com The Carolina Epicurean

    What a great post and your photos are exceptional!

  • http://www.stirthepots.com Jeremy

    Excellent as usual Monsieur Stephane!

  • Anonymous

    What a fabulous experience being able to see the kitchen up close and personal like that. From reading Eric Ripert’s books and seeing “Avec Eric,” I have always had that impression about the kitchen being so calm and civilized, too. I also had the chance to judge a cookie baking contest, of all things, with Chef Ripert, too. He was so down to earth and gracious.

  • http://thrillainmassalia.blogspot.com/ windy marseille

    thanks for such an inspiring account. i am a bit disillusioned at finding a “kind, human and civilized” kitchen in Marseille… I have had some sad experiences as an intern at Michelin starred restaurants here!

  • http://www.marblepolishing.net Marble Floor Polishing

    I like it very much! Just incredible. Thanks for the post.

  • http://twitter.com/JeNycEats Jen Chen

    So cool that you got to go behind the scenes/kitchen at Le Bernardin!