A return to cooking: The chef, the cook and the artist, Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman

18 October 2004
A return to cooking: The chef, the cook and the artist, Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman

Among the stream of US cookery books to make it to this side of the Atlantic over the last year or so is the second offering from Eric Ripert, the famed French chef-patron of New York's highly respected Le Bernadin.

In case you're not aware of Ripert, he's a multiple winner of the James Beard award (the USA's restaurant Oscars) and spent time learning his trade with Jo‰l Robuchon at his legendary Paris restaurant, Jamin, before heading to the USA. Once there, he worked with Jean-Luc Palladin in Washington, DC, and Gilbert Le Coze in New York on the road to opening Le Bernadin.

The motivation behind this book, written in conjunction with Michael Ruhlman, is Ripert's desire to rediscover his culinary soul - and thus his former self - after being pulled more and more away from the stove because of the success of his restaurant. It charts a journey which sees him leaving the business role in the office and, he claims, the restaurant chef behind to get back to working with food in the home kitchen.

The journey itself takes him through four regions - Vermont, Puerto Rico, Napa Valley and Long Island - designed to reflect the seasons in their raw produce, from which Ripert takes culinary inspiration.

Writer Ruhlman has probed Ripert's psyche but he sugar-coats his prose and injects praise for the chef at every turn, which is off-putting. The recipes themselves predominantly reflect Ripert's French roots and are illustrated by some beautiful photographs.

As you can imagine, a visit to Sag Harbor on Long Island in summer prompts the use of seafood. Originality is not bouncing off the pages in any of the recipes, but there are nice dishes to be found. A venison carpaccio with apple and beetroot salad looks clean and fresh, for instance.

Ripert's French origins come to the surface in the likes of a foie gras pot-au-feu with truffles, and braised pig's cheeks and pommes pur‚e.

Truffles pop up again as a main ingredient in a risotto carbonara, which is buried under both white and black varieties: not exactly what home cooks (the book's main market) have in plentiful supply in their larders. This begs the question: has the restaurant chef really been left behind?

Unfortunately, too, the desserts are very weak. In particular, chocolate ravioli looks pretty unexciting and heavy. To Ripert's credit, though, he openly admits desserts are his Achilles' heel.

One of the highlights for me are the reminiscences from Ripert's "dark days" - the time he spent in Robuchon's kitchen - where he survived three years, no mean feat by any standards.

At £40, the book isn't cheap. But is it worth it? Well, it's a must for the coffee table if you are looking to impress prospective house buyers; but serious cooks might need to find their own culinary soul elsewhere on their own journeys to reconnect with cooking.

A Return to Cooking: The Chef, the Cook and the Artist
Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman
Workman Publishing
ISBN 1-57965-187-9

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