Although some people know him from Food Network’s Top Chef or his Emmy-award winning television series Avec Eric, Eric Ripert built his name and reputation as the executive chef of Le Bernardin, a world-renowned New York seafood institution that opened in 1986. Ripert took over in the kitchen in 1994 at the age of 29, following the death of his mentor Gilbert Le Coze, one of Le Bernardin’s owners.
It was a challenging time, but Ripert rose to the occasion; his restaurant earned its first four-star rating from The New York Times that year, which it has maintained for over two decades. Le Bernardin has earned three Michelin stars every year since the New York Michelin Guide’s launch in 2005.
What is Ripert’s secret to his restaurant’s longevity and success in the rapidly changing and incredibly competitive food business? Here are four rules he follows to stay on top.
1. Have zero tolerance for mediocrity.
“We have people who come here for a very special experience,” he says. “So we have to deliver something that is exceptional… I trained the staff and I trained myself to have those eyes that see everything that goes wrong.” The French-born chef says if a dish isn’t prepared the right way, he’ll have the cooks redo it.
2. Make the four-star experience holistic.
“I am a chef -- food is my life -- but I realize it’s not only the food when you go to the restaurant,” says Ripert. “It’s the ambience, the quality of the service, the warmth of the service, how the client feels…. If you are in a beautiful environment and are pampered, you forget about your life. You’re just dreaming.”
3. Evolve to attract new clients.
The yellowfin tuna carpaccio was a signature dish at Le Bernardin in 1986, but last year Ripert decided to do away with signature dishes altogether.
“If you have a signature dish, you stop in time, you don’t evolve,” he explains.
Evolution is not only necessary for the menu, but the formal dining room’s decor, which Ripert says remained “anchored in the 1980s and a bit stuffy.” He wanted to create a more relaxed, “sexy ambience” to reflect his restaurant’s modern cuisine and new clientele.
Five years ago, Le Bernardin began a redesign project to its dining room, revealing a more relaxed and modern revamp, which garnered the establishment a James Beard Award in 2012 for Outstanding Restaurant Design.
4. Stay inspired.
Ripert says he gets energized by interacting with New York’s competitive talent pool and the ongoing interaction with other chefs, such as his close friend, Anthony Bourdain, as well as Daniel Boulud and Tom Colicchio.
“I am also lucky I can travel,” says Ripert, whose travels have taken him to Bhutan, South Korea, Australia and Puerto Rico in the last three years. “I bring back all this inspiration and ideas back. I think that makes Le Bernardin what it is today. A landmark. It’s not a sleepy one. It’s a place which is very active and changing all the time.”