by Sara Bonisteel
Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin's master chef, and the host of Avec Eric, discusses the kitchen-design lessons home cooks can take from a professional one
Eric Ripert is a chef of many talents. His Midtown Manhattan jewel, Le Bernardin, consistently garners four-star praise from the critics, while his PBS show Avec Eric gives viewers a global glimpse into the world of haute cuisine. He's authored four cookbooks, appeared on Top Chef, and had a recurring role on HBO's Treme, as himself. Now, Ripert is adding kitchen designer to his impressive resume.
Recently, the chef teamed up with the German kitchen design firm Poggenpohl to create the ultimate home kitchen from a professional chef's viewpoint. Ripert's designer kitchen makes the island the center of the action; maximizes efficiency; and even includes a spacious wine refrigerator.
Epicurious spoke with Ripert about the essentials for a kitchen, from favorite tools to the best kind of cooktop to use.
Epicurious: The kitchen you designed puts the focus on the island, with a stove top facing seating for guests and family. Why did you pull the stove away from the wall?
Eric Ripert: When I entertain, everybody wants to be with me in the kitchen, not necessarily to help but to drink with me. The idea was to design a kitchen that would allow the cook not to be stressed and to be very efficient in terms of cooking the meal, but also have something very convenient where people could gather around the cooking station.
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What I also like is the fact that you don't turn your back on your guests. You are with them, cooking and entertaining and talking. [In] many kitchens, I see the stove is against the wall and therefore, when you cook, you turn your back.
The idea is for [your guests] to be comfortable obviously, and to spend some time with you. So you want to create that ambience, and if you don't have guests, also it allows you to have the family gathering around you and potentially eating with you at the same time.
Epicurious: The design also includes an induction stove top. Why induction burners?
ER: First of all, it's green compared to gas. You basically heat only under the pan. It's creating less heat in the room. Also it allows you to have a very flat area. Between the table and the induction, it's exactly the same height. So it's safe, aesthetically it's nice, and it's also very practical because you can move your pans on the side and put them back on the heat very quickly, so I like that very much. And it looks very clean and contemporary.
Epicurious: Why did you decide to collaborate on a home kitchen?
ER: I wanted to work with someone who does a beautiful kitchen, but at the same time a designer who is listening, professional, and therefore create a kitchen that's not only beautiful but efficient. And Poggenpohl was very open to that idea, and that's why we created the collaboration we have.
When I go to houses and see my friends I see a lot of beautiful kitchens, but they're absolutely not efficient. I wanted to bring the experience that we have from the professional kitchen and apply that philosophy into a home kitchen. In a professional kitchen, especially in the big ones like Le Bernardin, where you have more than 20 cooks in the kitchen and so on, you don't want the guys to bump into [each other]. You don't want the guys to move. They stay where they are.
The idea was when you are at home cooking, you don't want to run everywhere for your veg, and look for your garbage, and find the oven at the end of the room. You want everything very close to you, so if you don't have to move so much, if you have everything you need close to you, you would be more productive with less stress, and you would have more fun in your kitchen cooking.
At the same time, if you entertain a lot of these friends, they would have great pleasure to be with you in the kitchen. And it's a special experience, and it's not anymore a burden or a stressful experience for the cook or for the guests, because when you're stressed, the people feel it.
When we discussed that with Poggenpohl, they were like, "Wow, it makes so much sense." They are designers and architects and so on , but it's hard for them to think like a cook, exactly the way it's hard for me to think like an architect. I need the experience. So by combining both experiences we have a beautiful product.
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Epicurious: Was there any element you initially neglected in the kitchen design?
ER: I forgot about the coffee machine. I forgot where to put it. So they [the designers] said, "You know, you need more counter space. Yes, you want your kitchen to be efficient like a pro kitchen, but at the same time, you're in your house in the morning, you make your coffee, you make your toast."
Epicurious: Should home cooks also pay attention to the kitchen lighting?
ER: It's very important. You have to have good lighting in a kitchen obviously for you to see what you're doing well, but also to create the mood. Dimmers are very important. For instance, where I work, the light is very precise and very powerful on my cutting board, but then for the guests, it's different. Indirect lighting. It's softer in a sense and creates a more, I don't want to say romantic, but a softer ambience.
Epicurious: What are the kitchen tools you can't live without?
ER: What is very important is to have pots and pans, knives of very good quality close to you, because it's what you use the most, and I will add also cutting boards because I have three or four different cutting boards that I will use, depending on what I cook. For instance, if I cook something that's a vegetable, I use a plastic cutting board, but if I have a roasted leg of lamb or something that's going to have a lot of juice, I use a wooden cutting board.
I am very particular about the knives. Without knives I don't think you can do some good cooking, so, therefore they are essential to me more than anything else.
Epicurious: How often do you get to cook at home?
ER: I come home late, so I don't have to cook but then on the weekend I always cook at least one meal.
Epicurious: Do you have a sound system in your kitchen?
ER: I have good speakers. The stereo is not in the kitchen, but the speakers are.
Epicurious: What do you listen to?
ER: I evolved over the years from techno to jazz.
Epicurious: What might surprise people about what you have in your own kitchen?
ER: Probably the quantity of chocolate that is in the drawers.
Photos: Courtesy Poggenpohl