2016 june 08 at powerhouse arena with bon appetit's adam rapoport! (ripert is on the left.)
i find that there are two kinds of book events (ok, really, three): there's the kind where i'm following along with my thumbs, trying to catch as many words as i can, and then there's the kind where i'm not so obsessive, simply enjoying the moment. i love both kinds -- there's a different kind of rapt attention they both command -- though i suppose the latter is less useful for this site.
as it goes, tonight's event with eric ripert was the latter. ripert is basically what you'd expect in person -- he's charming, funny, open -- and it was just fun to be able to sit and listen to him chat with rapoport. i have fewer notes from tonight, but maybe that means y'all should just goand read his memoir, 32 yolks, which i absolutely loved -- he made me cry, made me laugh, and left me feeling full and satisfied and encouraged to keep on doing what i'm doing.
adam rapoport: what is more difficult -- working the line as a terrified 17-year-old or writing a book about being a terrified 17-year-old?
eric ripert: writing a book is a process -- as you know, it's not easy. thank god i had veronica.
ER: working the line in the 80s was terrifying. i was the youngest one in the kitchen, and i was coming from culinary school and realized that i wasn't really at that level.
AR: i mean, you were kind of an idiot in the kitchen at first. [on his first day at la tour d'argent, ripert cut his finger. then he failed to make the hollandaise. then he didn't know what chervil was. in two weeks, he poured a pot of lobster stock on himself, badly scalding his feet.] what made you think you knew how to cook?
ER: [re: the chervil] in culinary school, you don't have expensive ingredients to cook with, so, often, they replace the ingredients with something else. [if they were able to get fish or meat, everyone in the class would get a little bit.] you have exposure to the knowledge, but you don't really master the recipe or the technique.
ER: [re: writing about his childhood] i wanted to put it in the book because i wanted the book to be inspirational on many levels and potentially touch people who are having problems as a couple or as children.
AR: you were an only child.
AR: and you have one child.
ER: yes. [...] i have one child for different reasons.
AR: what's interesting in the book is how vividly you write about food at such an early age. were you really that attentive?
ER: oh, yes. when i did the book, i realized that my long-term memory is amazing, and i can remember from three-and-a-half years old vividly. my short-term memory is destroyed. especially when it comes to food, i remember everything, every detail. for me, it's very easy to go back into those scenes and go into those details like we did for the book.
AR read a passage from 32 yolks:
there are dozens of lakes in the mountains of andorra. during our years living there, we'd gotten to know which waters had the most trout to be caught. [...] my mother would poach the just-caught trout in a big pot set over a camping stove. when the fish was almost done, she would add a dash of vinegar to the court bouillon in which she was poaching the trout. that burst of acidity caused the skin of the fish to turn blue -- a rare delicacy i'd read about in one of her cookbooks. then she would reduce the liquid, emulsify it with a little butter, and serve it as a sauce for the fish. (88)
AR: who reduced a sauce on a camping trip?! did you think this was normal?
ER: [re: fine dining] i loved the formality of the staff. i loved that it was this entire room, and there was this valet of people serving people, and i had a passion for that. look, for me, i was born with passion, so i recognized that --
AR: did you know that when you were that age?
ER: yes. i knew i had a passion for eating but not so much for cooking -- that would come later.
AR: why did you think you were not a good student?
ER: for many reasons. one of them, when i was seven years old, i was so good in school, they made me jump a grade. when i went to the following grade, i was completely lost, and, moving on, i was always behind, so i started sitting in the back of the class and became the clown. in culinary school, i excelled.
ER: cooking is craftsmanship. artistry comes later on. when you have mastered all the craftsmanship, then you can start to be creative and have artistic visions, and, when you have the visions, you have the technique to back them up.
[ER got his job at la tour after he wrote to all the michelin-starred restaurants in paris after culinary school. la tour is the only one that replied.]
ER: it's virtually impossible to come out of culinary school onto the line of a michelin-starred restaurant.
[why is his memoir titled 32 yolks? on his first day at la tour d'argent:]
tirade over, he [maurice] asked me to make the hollandaise, adding, as though it was nothing, "thirty-two yolks, okay?"
"oui, chef," i dutifully replied.
this seemingly easy task would be the thing that broke me, showing me the gap between culinary school knowledge and real restaurant chops. to start, it took me almost twenty minutes to separate the eggs. none of the guys around me lifted their heads from their stations when i asked what to do with the whites. they were too deep in their tasks, moving with a smooth, mechanic urgency as they prepared their mise en place for the first service, slicing leeks as fine as eyelashes and "turning" carrots into perfect barrel shapes. stopping for ten seconds to answer a basic question was unthinkable.
when i approached the waldorf with my pan, the hairs on my forearms curled up and singed into nothing. i tried to negotiate for my own twenty inches of space with a cook who was calmly adding lobsters to a massive pot of stock. but even then, i didn't have the strength to move thirty-two yolks and make a light and foamy sabayon. i didn't know to feel the temperature of the pan with the back of my hand. i didn't know how to instinctively intuit the right temperature to cook the eggs so that they would become that magical sauce. i didn't know and i couldn't ask -- this was la tour, not cooking school -- so i failed, at the simplest of tasks. maurice was so shocked when he discovered my incompetence that he said nothing, just took the pan out of my hand and looked upward, as if demanding celestial intervention. (124)
ER: it took me weeks, maybe months, to master the sabayon, and, by the time i mastered that, [i had become part of the kitchen].
ER: i didn't want to do anything else. i had a strong passion to be a chef, and i knew i had to pay my dues.
ER: anyone in a professional kitchen can't do much by himself.