Good vs. Evil: An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert
May 3, The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, (860) 987-6000, bushnell.org
Most chefs don't radiate calm and goodwill. The kitchen has always been a place of heat and energy — scalding flames from the stove, finger-slicing knives, frantic mincing, blasts of steam, barked-out orders and a race against the clock. If you watch cooking shows on TV, sometimes you'll still catch glimpses of that old-school hothead character, the apoplectic chef. That model may have slid slightly into the past; people frown on sociopathic behavior in the workplace these days, even from the boss. And no matter how devoted to the craft, not every line cook is willing to be viciously berated. Chef Eric Ripert is sort of the opposite of the cartoon of the screaming, eye-popping chef. Ripert is chill. The dude's a Buddhist. He seems to be broadcasting good vibes to the world.
Ripert's New York restaurant Le Bernardin was awarded three Michelin stars. (That's a huge deal.) He's also written cookbooks and appeared as a judge on several seasons of "Top Chef." But one's sense of Ripert's sleepy, calm-and-cool demeanor might be increased by the contrast with all of the blustery culinary company he keeps. Take Anthony Bourdain, bad-boy chef, television personality and gustatory contrarian. Ripert will appear with Bourdain at the Bushnell in Hartford as a part of "Good Vs. Evil: An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert."
The event is part of a roadshow that the pair have been doing about a dozen times a year for the past couple years. The show is a loose affair during which the two chefs roast each other — in the comedic sense — and then move on to talk about cooking, restaurants, eating and the state of food production in the world. Ripert spoke by phone with the Advocate recently from his office at Le Bernardin.
"The show is not scripted at all. It's a lot of improvisation," says Ripert." What surprised me the most is that people laugh."
Anyone who saw Bourdain's 2009 appearance at the Connecticut Forum on food in Hartford knows that the guy can entertain a crowd. Bourdain knows how to skewer overly uptight tastes, sanctimonious environmentalism and high-minded food activism, to rip apart crappy cooks, and to simply celebrate the appetites. Bourdain is one of those chefs who make cooking seem to fit right in with Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll. He's as responsible for America's food obsession and cooking-as-pop-culture trend as anyone. But if Bourdain is the Keith Richards of cooking, Eric Ripert is the Charlie Watts to his Keef.
As Ripert said on his Internet show On the Table "[Bourdain] has a lot of experience with interviews, and he has a way of expressing himself that sometimes hides the real Anthony Bourdain that he is... People like blood. They like exaggerated characters, and Anthony can be very good at that."
Ripert, in Buddhist fashion, has expressed concern about Bourdain's anger. His friend's fiery feelings seem to genuinely worry Ripert.
After the entertaining and "roasting" are over though, the pair will presumably tackle more weighty subjects, like genetically modified organisms (GMOs), sustainability and health.
"Living in our era, we have to be aware of what's going on on our planet and therefore support sustainable practices," says Ripert. "I think the future in America is to create sustainability more and more because everybody's aware and wants to do something about it. It's also true that it's healthy. The food we eat has a huge impact on our health."
Ripert expresses shock that America hasn't taken action on telling consumers what products contain GMOs.
"In Europe everything is labeled, so why not in America?" he asks.
But in true Buddhist fashion, Ripert takes a patient, long-view approach to things. And he thinks food TV is changing the ways that companies market to consumers.
The popularity of cooking shows is "slowly translating into passion for cooking at home," he says. "I see more and more aisles of vegetables in supermarkets. And they don't do it just to show."
As for foulmouthed and abusive head chefs, Ripert suggests that yelling and intimidating your staff isn't the best way to make delicious food. "Treat your team properly and with respect and you will have great results," says Ripert.