"It's self hypnosis," he says.
Le Petit Café serves only dinner usually at two sittings, 6 and 8:30 p.m. On a typical evening, Ip serves 45 customers at each sitting with a wait staff of two to four.
The menu is simple: a prix fixe with six entrees, six appetizers and six desserts with a salad after the appetizer. The price is not cheap, $52.50 per person. For many of his customers, Ip's restaurant is for special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations.
Dishes range from French classic, like steak and French fries and rack of lamb, to Asian influenced, such as shrimp with buckwheat noodles and peanut sauce and miso sea bass with baby bok choy.
Ip is always tweaking the menu, adding duck cassoulet in the winter or a new fish dish in summer.
"You can always do something better," he says.
At a pre-dinner meeting, Ip asks his waiters about the contents of the chutney served with the paté appetizer. When no one can answer, the mildly annoyed chef rattles off the ingredients: juniper berries, apricots, port wine, balsamic vinegar and more.
"It's not sweet. It's not sour. It's a little bit of everything," Ip says.
By 6 p.m., Winnie, who works at the restaurant Fridays and Saturdays, is seating customers. The kitchen comes to life. Ip's assistant begins searing steaks and racks of lamb. Standing at the counter at the front of the kitchen, Ip turns to cook fish and the escargot appetizer.
As the minutes tick by, the pace quickens. Flames flare from scalding hot pans. Oven doors bang open and closed. Ip's assistants weave within the confined space like hockey players charging up ice.
Few words are spoken as Ip and his team assemble picture perfect dishes that disappear into the dining room.
When the pace slows, Ip appears in the dining room, greeting customers, many of whom he knows by name. The personal touch is key, says Ip, who takes most of the restaurant's reservations.
"The most important thing in the hospitality business is to make people feel welcome," Ip says. "You can't make people feel like you are doing them a favor."
And what of the future? Ip has no interest in TV or the celebrity chef circuit.
"I'm an iron chef because I iron my own jacket," he jokes, referring to the popular "Iron Chef" program on Food Network.
But Ip does not rule out getting bigger once his son, a high achieving junior at Choate Rosemary Hall, goes to college.
He speaks often and with pride of his son's academic success and thanks Winnie for her love and support. In a business notorious for killing marriages, theirs is stronger than ever, he says.
"One more year," Ip says. "Let's see what happens. I'm still young in many ways. I can still work. It's a matter of how much I physically want to work. "
LE PETIT CAFÉ, 225 Montowese St., Branford, is open Wednesday through Saturday for dinner only. Information: www.lepetitcafe.net. Reservations: 203-483-9791.