Eric Ripert’s New York City seafood restaurant, Le Bernardin, has been lauded the world over for the unique culinary experience diners can expect to enjoy there. Recently, the restaurant was voted the fifth best restaurant in the world by readers of Elite Traveler magazine.
‘Headed by French maestro Eric Ripert since 1994,’ Le Bernadin is described by the magazine as ‘possibly the world’s greatest seafood restaurant.’
However, this is merely the latest in a series of accolades. Most notably, the Michelin Guide, which made its New York debut in 2005, honored Chef Ripert and Le Bernardin with its highest rating of three stars in 2005 and each year thereafter, the restaurant’s website notes.
Ripert is well-known to Cayman residents and visitors alike for his Blue by Eric Ripert restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, which opened in 2006.
It has been said that the restaurant has played an important role in elevating dining standards across the island ever since.
Success and loyalty
As for the success of Le Bernardin, Ripert points to the team of sous chefs under him who have been loyal to the restaurant for 20 years, and who are “almost obsessed” by delivering the best experience to the client by sourcing the best ingredients and using their creativity and passion to do so.
With Le Bernardin’s success has come accolades, including the highly coveted three Michelin stars in 2005 (when Michelin first started honoring U.S. restaurants) and every year thereafter.
Le Bernadin dates back to a restaurant of the same name (named after an order of monks who liked to eat and drink) established in 1972 in Paris, when siblings Maguy and Gilbert Le Coze opened a seafood restaurant that earned one Michelin star just four years later, followed by two in 1980.
The Le Cozes went on to open Le Bernardin in New York City in 1986 and it also began winning accolades, setting standards for seafood cuisine in America. After Gilbert Le Coze died in 1994, Ripert, a close friend and disciple, took over the kitchen, working alongside Maguy, who fronted the restaurant.
Le Berndardin’s unique selling point is clear, Ripert says.
“With regard to luxury seafood restaurants in New York City, there isn’t any competition at this level. Because we are constantly evolving, anyone who tries to copy us is already behind,” he says.
The city itself holds great fascination for Ripert, because it attracts talent from all over the world, from all ethnicities and cultures. He says he uses this talent to inspire him so he can learn new techniques and integrate them into his own cuisine. The chef says he doesn’t find the competition stressful in this highly competitive locale.
“Competition keeps us on our toes and makes us more creative,” he says. “It’s not pressure; it’s pleasure,” he says.
Leading the trend
Over the years the restaurant has embraced a new era of fine dining, leading where others would like to follow.
“Dining used to be formal at Le Bernardin and it has now become more interactive and relaxed,” Ripert says. “The architecture has also changed from a formal dining room to a far more sexy and vibrant surrounding.”
Fine dining has evolved tremendously in the last 20 years, the chef notes, with diners looking for a more holistic experience than simply a great dinner. Le Bernardin tries to deliver a unique experience to each and every customer who walks through the door. While the cuisine itself is obviously of utmost importance, Ripert says the wait staff have been trained to ensure that they understand the needs of their clients.
“Someone who comes to Le Bernardin to close a business deal may not want too much interaction with the wait staff, while a foodie visiting New York City might want lots of interaction, including a visit to the kitchen, which we are happy to provide.
“Our staff are trained to read the minds of our guests to deliver to their expectations,” he says. “We want to make our guests as happy and relaxed as possible.”
Cayman a top choice
Ripert says he has been approached by many Caribbean destinations to open a restaurant, but he chose the Cayman Islands for his only venture in the region.
“I could have opened in places such as Puerto Rico, Aruba, St. Maarten or Antigua, but I chose Cayman because it is my favorite island.”
Calling Blue “Le Bernardin by the sea,” Ripert says he needs to be able to deliver the same high-class experience in Cayman as he does in New York.
“I needed to be able to hire foreigners, and in some islands in the Caribbean that was challenging. In the Cayman Islands we are able to integrate foreign and local staff to create a great energy that allows Blue to deliver at the level where we are at now,” he says.
Blue has a sense of place, Ripert says, because it is able to integrate local ingredients into its cuisine, for example, conch that is brought to the restaurant on Sunday by local fishermen.
“The conch ceviche that we serve may end up at Blue with different flavors to those usually used, but the idea comes from the locals. In the same way, we cooked curried fish inspired by local curried goat.”
In order to ensure that standards are kept as high at Blue as they are at Le Bernardin, staff are regularly trained at the New York location to expose them to a larger restaurant and brigade, and the creativity and service levels that need to be attained.
“I can see it in their faces that they are very impressed when they come to New York,” Ripert says.
Ripert says he makes regular trips to Blue to assess the restaurant and does his best to get out of the hotel to dine around Cayman when he can. Favorite Cayman restaurants (other than Blue) include The Brasserie, Michael’s Genuine and Ortanique.
And one more: “I don’t think you can visit Grand Cayman without a visit to Calypso Grill,” he adds.
Ripert says he is looking forward to his next visit to Cayman, which he deems “one of the culinary capitals of the Caribbean” in a month or two when he will review the restaurant and interact with his Cayman team once again, ensuring Cayman guests are kept just as delighted as his New York clientele.