Dinner at Le Bernardin starts at 4 a.m., at New York City’s vast wholesale fish market. It is there where Eric Ripert, the restaurant’s chef and co-owner, shows correspondent Martha Teichner the quality of the fish Le Bernardin has bought here for more than 30 years, ever since the seafood restaurant’s founder, Gilbert Le Coze, started showing up to hand-pick the best in the market.
In 1972, brother and sister Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze opened their original, 25-seat Le Bernardin in Paris. Opening day, according to Maguy, “was a catastrophe.”
Things got better. By the time Le Bernardin left Paris for New York in 1986, it had two coveted Michelin stars. Within three months of opening in New York, it received a really rare 4-star review from The New York Times.
- A ★★★★ Is Born (N.Y. Times, 3/28/1986)
Raw fish dishes, like the tuna carpaccio, are part of Le Bernardin’s DNA.
EXTRA: Eric Ripert prepares Le Bernardin’s Tuna Carpaccio
Born in the south of France, Eric Ripert trained with some of Paris’ most famous chefs before coming to the United States. Gilbert Le Coze lured him to Le Bernardin. He recalled: “I said, ‘Remember this time … this is very special in your life.'”
And so it would prove. Three years later, Le Coze died suddenly, at age 49.
“I was very emotional,” Ripert said. “Gilbert was a friend. And a couple of days later, after the shock, Maguy sat with me and she said, ‘I would like for you to take the kitchen.'”
Maguy said, “I told Eric, ‘I don’t want to have the menu of my brother. You have to do your own menu with your style and your creation.’ And he did.”
With spectacularly successful results.
When Michelin began awarding stars in the U.S., in 2005, Le Bernardin got three, the maximum. It’s never lost any. As it celebrates its 50th birthday, it’s on multiple lists of the best restaurants in the world.
No pressure, right? But surprise…
“I’m driven about being content,” Ripert said. “That’s what I want to do in my life. Be happy. Be content. And then if I am happy, I can make others happy.”
Ripert is a Buddhist. Now 57, how he runs Le Bernardin is an extension of his approach to life: “Cooking is a lot of craftsmanship, and it’s art when you are at this level of fine dining, and when you are expressing something, expressing ideas that can have an impact on our society, actually.”
Yes, a four-course dinner costs $198, but the flip side is giving back. Unused food that otherwise would go to waste is collected and taken to City Harvest, New York City’s massive food rescue program. Last year City Harvest (where Ripert serves as vice-chairman) distributed more than 100 million pounds of donated food to New York City shelters and food pantries.
“I’m using the restaurant to try to make a difference,” he said.
As for Le Bernardin at 50, Ripert notes, “It’s a work in progress. If I was satisfied and not think it’s a work in progress, I’m behind, I’m bored. It’s time to go!”
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Story produced by Jon Carras. Editor: Carol Ross.
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