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:
- An afternoon with Joel Robuchon
- Kyoto Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa
- Behind the Line @ Laurent, Paris
- Behind the Line @ Apicius, Paris
- Behind the Line @ L’ambroisie, Paris
Tags: Famous chef