Le Bernardin’s chef Eric Ripert says there are signs throughout our lives that guide us. Looking back, one of the more significant guideposts in the James Beard award-winning chef’s life involved the Dalai Lama, Playboy magazine and a French airport.

The year was 1989, and Ripert was at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. At the time, he was leaving behind his life in France where he’d established a promising start as a chef; he had worked at the legendary La Tour d’Argent in Paris and as a chef in the Michelin three-starred Jamin. He was on his way to his first job in America as a sous-chef at Jean Louis in D.C.’s Watergate Hotel.

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With $2 in his pocket, he passed by a bookstore in the airport and spotted Playboy.

“I decided to take the Playboy with me,” he recalls. “And then I saw a book [Ocean of Wisdom] by his Holiness, the Dalai Lama, that started with his speech of acceptance for the Nobel Prize for Peace.”

Ripert had a choice to make. The Dalai Lama won.

Years later, he says that decision sparked a lifelong interest and practice in Buddhism, which includes daily meditation and ongoing study. Buddhism has served as a foundation for Ripert’s compassionate leadership style and his philosophy of creating balance and giving back. Ripert not only serves as the vice chairman of the board for the nonprofit City Harvest, but he’s thrown several fundraisers on behalf of the Dalai Lama at Le Bernardin to raise money for Tibetan causes.

The celebrated chef from Antibes has a memoir coming out in May 2016 from Random House where he’ll reveal more about the forks in the road that led him to where he is today.

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