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Eric Ripert: Food for the Soul

As an unhappy child, the celebrated chef tasted love in his mom's cooking

Personal Best: Eric Ripert

Melanie Dunea; Groomer: Birgitte/Sally Harlor

Eric Ripert is a renowned chef, who specializes in French cuisine.

En español | My childhood is not something I used to talk about. If someone had asked me about it, I would have answered, but nobody ever did. Now I am very open and reconciled with my past. I have no problem to talk about my stepfather, who hit and bullied me. I have no problem to talk about abuse from a priest at the boarding school. To me, you have no choice but to accept your past. Buddhism has had a big influence on me. I used to have a temper in the kitchen. I used to throw plates on the floor and scream at the cooks. But one day I realized that I was very unhappy, and that you can't mix happiness and anger. Today it is extremely rare that I lose my temper.

I am firm and demanding, but that's different from screaming. In France, the system of training chefs is to break the young person and rebuild that person into a champion. In some ways, it's like the military. It's very hard core. On the first day of my first job out of cooking school, I had to separate 32 eggs and make a hollandaise. I couldn't lift the heavy pan of yolks; I didn't know how to properly heat them. I ruined them. I was humiliated. It showed me just how much I didn't know. I was lucky to have good mentors, but I had to learn the hard way. I was not always as confident as I am today. To people who are just starting out and learning, I want to say: Never give up. My mother's cooking inspired me a lot. She worked six days a week at her boutique, but cooking something fresh and delicious every night was very important to her. She would make tarte tatin or an amazing soufflé. And I loved her steak au poivre. I was always mesmerized by the flambé in the pan, and I loved the velvety yet spicy sauce.

When I went grocery shopping with my mother, she usually rushed me past the cookie aisle, but I didn't mind. There was always something better to eat at home.

— Eric Ripert, 51, is the chef at Le Bernardin in New York. His new memoir is 32 Yolks: From My Mother's Table to Working the Line

Personal Best: Eric Ripert

Photograph by Christopher Testani; Food Stylist: Maggie Ruggiero; Prop Stylist: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

Steak au Poivre served with broccolini

Steak au Poivre

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 4 8-ounce beef tenderloins
  • 1 ¼ inches thick salt
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter
  • ⅓ cup cognac, plus 1 tablespoon
  • ½ cup cream

How to Make

  1. Let the steaks sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Season with salt and some crushed peppercorns.
  2. In a large pan, heat the oil until it's almost smoking. Add the steaks. Sear for 3 to 4 minutes over medium-high heat, until brown. Flip; cook for another 3 to 4 minutes for medium rare. Remove the steaks from the pan; cover with aluminum foil to keep them warm.
  3. Drain the excess grease from the pan. Add the butter; toast the remaining peppercorns over medium heat for 1 minute.
  4. Add ⅓ cup cognac; reduce ⅔ over high heat. Add the cream and reduce ⅔ or until the cream coats the back of a spoon.
  5. Add the remaining cognac. Season to taste, spoon the sauce over the steaks, cut the steaks in half and serve immediately.

Nutrients per serving: 370 calories, 20g protein, 0g carbohydrates, 0g fiber, 29g fat, 94mg cholesterol, 359mg sodium

Personal Best: Eric Ripert

Photograph by Christopher Testani; Food Stylist: Maggie Ruggiero; Prop Stylist: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

Les Nemes with lettuce and mint leaves

Les Nems (Vietnamese Spring Rolls)

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

For the rolls

  • ⅛ cup dried wood ear mushrooms
  • ¼ cup cellophane noodles
  • ½ pound cooked crabmeat
  • ½ pound finely chopped lean pork
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 20 sheets rice paper (11-inch diameter)
  • Peanut oil, for frying
  • Lettuce leaves and fresh mint leaves, for wrapping

For the dipping sauce

  • 1 tablespoon chili sauce (Tuong Ot Toi)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce (Nuoc Mam), or to taste
  • ½ carrot, peeled and grated

How to Make

  1. Soak the mushrooms and noodles separately in water for 30 minutes.
  2. Mix together all the dipping-sauce ingredients. Set aside.
  3. Drain the mushrooms and noodles; finely chop together.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix the crab, pork and onion. Add the mushroom-noodle mixture; mix with hands. Add the carrot and eggs; mix.
  5. Fill a large bowl with hot water, and set a plate next to the bowl. Quickly dip 1 piece of rice paper into the water and place it on the plate.
  6. Put 1 tablespoon of the crab mixture on the rice paper. Fold the bottom edge over the filling. Fold each side of the rice paper toward the center. Gently roll up. Place into a large shallow bowl.
  7. Pour the peanut oil into a large skillet (to a depth of ⅓ inch). Place the rolls in the cold oil. Starting with cold oil is essential for perfect cooking.
  8. Start cooking on medium-high heat. When the rolls are brown, turn them over and turn the heat down to medium. When the rolls are crispy, remove them and place them on paper towels.
  9. With a serrated knife, cut each roll into 5 pieces.
  10. Spring rolls are eaten with the hands. Wrap each piece with a little envelope of lettuce and mint; dip each piece into the sauce just before eating.

Nutrients per serving: 332 calories, 21g protein, 42g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 8g fat, 117mg cholesterol, 412mg sodium

Personal Best: Eric Ripert

Photograph by Christopher Testani; Food Stylist: Maggie Ruggiero; Prop Stylist: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 6 Gala apples
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • Whipped cream, for garnish

How to Make

  1. Heat the oven to 300°F. Cut off both ends of each apple, then peel. Remove each core with an apple corer. Cut each apple in half, then set aside.
  2. Place an 8-inch sauté pan on medium heat. Slowly sprinkle the sugar into the hot pan, about 1 teaspoon at a time, until the sugar turns a medium-dark caramel. Add the butter to the pan; mix with the sugar until fully blended. Add the vanilla bean and salt.
  3. Arrange the apple halves standing up, nestling them into one another around the circumference of the pan. Approximately 10 halves should fit. Stand the last 2 halves in the middle. Cover the top with aluminum foil, making sure the sides are tight, so no steam escapes.
  4. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven; remove the foil. With a pastry brush, brush the tops of the apples with the collected liquid. Return the pan to the oven; bake for another 30 minutes. While baking, cut a piece of baking parchment into a 9-inch circle. When the apples are done, place the parchment on top of them, then set 2 plates or a heavy pan on top of the parchment. Let cool. Increase the oven temperature to 325° F.
  5. While the apples cool, unfold the puff pastry and cut it into an 8-inch round. Set the pastry on a piece of parchment; top the pastry with another piece of parchment. Place the pastry and parchment between 2 sheet pans; bake for 12 minutes at 325° F or until golden brown. Remove the parchment. Let cool.
  6. Remove the parchment from on top of the apples in the sauté pan, and place the pan on the stove over low heat for 1 minute, to loosen the apples from the pan. Remove the vanilla bean. Place the baked puff pastry on top of the apples in the pan. Top with a piece of parchment and then a sheet pan; carefully invert the sauté pan onto the sheet pan. Transfer to a plate. Serve topped with whipped cream.

Nutrients per serving: 241 calories, 1g protein, 33g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 12g fat, 35mg cholesterol, 38mg sodium

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