I recently acquired a copy of this book and found it a tantalizingly unique approach to the genre of ‘restaurant cookbook’. Why ? Because it is about the care and tendering of a restaurant -Le Bernadin - which author ( and Executive Chef and co-owner ) Eric Ripert so clearly loves and fusses over like a lover. It is not, like so many other celebrity chefs books, about the chef or his ego or his prowess or his food ‘enlightenment’, but refreshingly, about the impeccably demanding and non-stop daily efforts that owners Maguy LeCose and Eric Ripert demand of themselves and their staff in order to keep this high-maintenance restaurant operating at top level.
It is also a behind the scenes look at the hectic yet controlled and precise daily operations of a restaurant of this caliber located in the most hectic of American cities, New York City. As readers, we become privy to information such as the staff hierarchy in the kitchen and dining room, the slang-uage of the kitchen, and to the job of the porter, the person in charge of food deliveries.
In a restaurant world filled with ‘good-enough’, un-skilled and un-trained cooks and slacking standards ( i.e. the type of dreadful restaurants that Gordon Ramsey wrangles with on his television program Kitchen Nightmares ) it is refreshing to peer into the inner workings of a Eurocentric, Michelin star-rated establishment that constantly polishes its dedication to excellence and the discipline of cooking and br reassured that here, everything is as it should be.
Here, the rewards and successes of the restaurant come from the hard work and personal values of LeCose and Ripert, and it is apparent from reading this book that they fully understand ( and thrive on ) the yin and yang relationship these concepts have one to another. Underneath the posh glamour of Le Bernadin is an old-school French restaurant, meaning that emphasis is directed towards sourcing the best-quality fresh products no matter the cost, and placing experienced and skilled chefs and sous chefs in the kitchen to assist the on-site Executive Chef/Owner in his desire to please restaurant patrons with beautiful, well-prepared food. ( Note: the word on-site is important here – many celebrity chefs are rightly criticized for their blatant absence from their restaurant kitchens).
This book is significantly different in tone and style from the previous book written by Maguey Le Coze and Eric Ripert titled: Le Bernadin Cookbook: Four-Star Simplicity, (Doubleday, 1998). Where Four-Star features more lavish plating and big gestures, the recipes in On The Line are spare, pared down to precise embellishments used in restrained quantities, which allows the star of the dish – the fish or shellfish – to hold center court.
For the record, let me say here that I have never dined at this restaurant nor do I know either of the two owners. So, with book in hand I made several dishes from this book and was impressed with the results. Each recipe has many parts - sauces, emulsions, flavored broths, garnishes, etc – that comprise the final dish. While the recipes are not difficult, they are a bit fussy and time-comsuming for home cooks who do not have a mis en place of these necessary foundation elements on hand the way that the Le Bernadin kitchen does.
But this is not as much a complaint as it is an observation. For example, I am sure that pureeing the sugar snap peas, green peas, and mint in three separate steps (as is called for in the Sweet Pea-Wasabi Sauce in the Salmon recipe on page 202 ) is a cinch when a reasonable quantity of sauce is made in the restaurant kitchen each night the dish appears on the menu. But for home cooks, the recipe calls for using such small quantities that I had to put all of these ingredients together in my blender just to have enough material in there for my blender to, well, blend.
Which recipes did I choose ?
Crab, inspired by Peruvian Causa: layered crab, avocado, and potaotes spiced with yellow Aji Amarillo pepper sauce
Scallops: ultra-rare charred sea scallops with smoked sea salt ( I used our fantastic Japanese Iburi-Jio smoked sea salt )
Salmon: barely cooked wild Alaskan salmon with daikon, snow peas, enoki salad and sweet-pea wasabi sauce
Banana: banana creme brulee, citrus-pistachio biscuit and beurre noisette ice cream with peanut caramel
All of these recipes were lovely- each dish had layers of flavor and a well-balanced complexity that one imagines is the signature of a Le Bernadin dish. Nevertheless, my favorite was the crab dish, followed by the scallops. The crab was fun to construct and was very jazzy looking ( I wish there had been a picture of the Le Bernadin version in the book ). Several components of the dish – the onion relish, the potatos, and the pepper sauce are tasty mini-recipes that I will certainly put to use in many other dishes.
Here is a photo of part of my mis en place:
and the finished dish: