Trends and innovation company PSFK held its annual conference on trends, innovation and creative ideas yesterday at the Art Director’s Club in Manhattan.
Eric Ripert, Executive Chef at four star restaurant, Le Bernardin, known for its haute cuisine (and even haughtier prices,) was one of a range of speakers during the course of the day to talk to a youngish crowd of mostly media and design professionals, all crammed into one large room. Challenged by the New York Times recently to come up with a sumptuous meal using only ingredients from a dollar store (a challenge he successfully completed,) Ripert has been hailed as “America’s foremost seafood chef.”
On stage, in a disarmingly thick French accent that quickly grew on his audience (although near impossible to decipher at first,) he expounded on the merits of competition. “If you’re not on top of your game and inspired, someone will push you away. I love that aspect of competition… Otherwise you are content with what you have, it’s boring. Competition keeps you creative, young in mind. It makes you want to be better than what you are.”
He avoids signature dishes because “it means your success is in the past… You’re not inspiring to anyone. All the care you’ve put into the old dish lapses because nobody cares anymore… You’re not being creative anymore.”
Apart from being inspired by his travels, being a chef in New York, where “it’s twenty minutes from Chinatown to the Middle East,” also has its merits. Ripert explained how the rich diversity of his surroundings influences the innovativeness he brings to his food: “I’m inspired by whatever I find here in New York. I find so many things — new flavors, ingredients, techniques – and I bring these to my kitchen. That’s what makes ours ‘New York’ cuisine.”
The most memorable part of Ripert’s forty or so minutes on stage was a particularly impassioned speech he made in response to a question about when cooking approaches an art form. “I don’t see the art form in putting carrots on the right side of the plate, or putting carrots on the left side of the plate. If cooking is an art it’s much more than an egoistic vision of the chef. If cooking is an art, our way of being artists is to thank the gift of earth of what God is giving us and to pay homage to the bounty that we are living in,” he told us earnestly. “When you serve lobster, you’ve taken a being’s life away. Therefore if you create a recipe, you have to be very dedicated to elevate the lobster, to make it good and tasty of course, but at the end of the day it’s a matter of paying homage.”
Unsurprisingly, the trends Ripert sees in food revolve around sustainability and organic foods – he foresees the increasing development of products that are organic as well as simultaneously tasty and appealing to the senses.
What did inject an element of surprise was the award winning chef’s self-admission about living in a tiny New York apartment with an even smaller kitchen that he never uses – his wife (who he claims “doesn’t necessarily know how to cook well,”) uses their oven as storage space. Proving that necessity is indeed the mother of invention, Ripert has conceived of a slew of quick, easy recipes all of which can be made without using a conventional oven or stove. The night before he addressed the conference, he ate tomatoes with olive oil and herbs – cooked for five minutes in a toaster oven.