The acclaimed French chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin delivers a breezy account of his life in France and Andorra before he moved to the United States in his early 20s.
Ripert (Avec Eric: A Culinary Journey with Eric Ripert, 2010, etc.) makes it clear that food was always the warm center of his life, and his descriptions of the meals he prepared or devoured will make even the most ascetic reader hungry. As a boy, the author took refuge in a restaurant in his little town, where the chef indulged him with bowls of chocolate mousse or spoonfuls of caviar while his glamorous mother was off running the boutique she owned. Bored with academics, he left high school to go to a no-frills vocational boarding school, where he learned knife skills and “took naturally to the non-negotiable, army-like rules of the brigade system” in a restaurant. After an apprenticeship where he boned pounds of anchovies and peeled dozens of potatoes every day, working from 8:30 in the morning until 11:00 at night, the 17-year-old moved to Paris, where he learned to transform the “32 yolks” of the title into a proper hollandaise sauce and lived in fear of daunting chefs. Ripert worked first for Dominique Bouchet and then for Joel Robuchon, neither of whom cut their underlings any slack. The author keeps his tone light, even as he describes forbidding work environments, constant anxiety, escalating anger, and the pressures of being low on an aggressively male pecking order. His pleasure in good food—whether he’s following his grandmother to a town market, where he “swooned at the fragrance of anise, clove, and mint,” or preparing lavish restaurant dishes plated with 90 equally spaced dots of sauce—makes for some vicarious gastronomic thrills.
It doesn’t take a refined palate to savor Ripert’s culinary adventures.