Boisson Buddies: Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert
On paper they couldn't be more different—one is a refined French chef with four-stars from The New York Times, three from the Michelin Guide, and a number of awards from the James Beard Foundation including Top Chef in New York City and Outstanding Chef in the United States; the other is a New York City-born, five-time Emmy-nominated, world-traveling culinary renegade whose first novel, Bone in the Throat, is being adapted for the big screen. Yet Le Bernardin's Eric Ripert and best-selling author and television host Anthony Bourdain go together like moules and frites. Whereas Ripert, his wife, Sandra, and their son, Adrien, have been summering in the Hamptons for more than a decade, this season is the first for Bourdain and his wife, Ottavia, and their daughter, Ariane. But it is a wonderful respite for Bourdain, who spent 260 days last year traveling for his two Travel Channel series, No Reservations and The Layover and will launch his graphic novel Get Jiro! and a new series on CNN in the fall.
It was in the least likeliest of ways that these two toques came together. When Bourdain turned the heat up on the culinary industry in his 2001 breakout book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, he had many complementary passages about Ripert and Le Bernardin. "Seventy-five percent of the industry was saying, 'it's scandalous' and 'this guy is a disgrace.' Then part of the industry was saying, 'he's genius,'" remembers Ripert. "I called him and said, 'I read your book, and I would love to know you. Would you come for lunch?' That was the first time I met Anthony, and we have been friends ever since."
"When Eric called, the book was doing really well, but I was still working every day at [Brasserie] Les Halles, convinced, quite certain that I should keep my day job and that there was no way that I would be able to support myself or count on writing as an income stream of any kind," says Bourdain. "I was absolutely floored that a chef who I respected that much from a restaurant that I never could have been able to afford would call me up and invite me to lunch. Even stranger, a filmmaker shot me as I'm leaving the lunch, and I'm devastated, just standing there practically in tears. I'd had this amazing meal, and I really saw the road not taken. I had made some very basic decisions about my career, either knowingly or in a calculated way. When I had the opportunity to get really good at my craft, I chose not to and went the other way. I'm sure in many ways it has been trying to maintain and protect the reputation of an establishment like Le Bernardin and have a friend like me who is likely to put his foot in his mouth every five minutes. It speaks well of Eric's character."
Yet despite their differences, the two celebrated chefs have very similar summer plans involving backyard barbecues. But whether it's the technique or the ingredients that make for the ultimate backyard meal…. Well, there they go again...
Anthony Bourdain: I'm excited about the summer. As you know this is my first real vacation in the Hamptons. I'm buying the whole package.
Eric Ripert: What is the whole package to you?
AB: I'm renting a house with a pool, moving my whole family up here, inviting people for the weekends, and doing what I always imagined people who go to the Hamptons do. I bought into the dream. I have this ridiculously conventional scenario all spelled out for myself. I'm looking forward to barbecuing on the weekends. I'm looking to come "schnorr" lunch over at your place. I'm looking forward to lining up at whatever the market is and getting the Sunday New York Times.
ER: Have you been to the Hamptons before? Do you have knowledge in terms of the difference between Southampton and East Hampton and Water Mill and Sag Harbor and Montauk?
AB: When I was a little kid, we would go out in the off-season and rent a little cabin in Montauk, so I have very romantic associations with steamer clams, mussels, cherrystones, littlenecks, maybe a steamed lobster, or fried blowfish tails. That's what the Hamptons was for me as a kid. Later as a teenager, I had a friend who had an A-frame out in Amagansett, and I had a couple of formative childhood experiences there.
ER: Actually Amagansett has a good place called Stephen Talkhouse. They have great music there, good bands.
AB: I've been to Stephen Talkhouse; I think my friend worked there as a cook. I've come out here to visit you, and I've seen it on TV. Treme is starting up again; I think it starts in the fall. I wrote you extra long speeches, just to torture you.
ER: I know. I beg for you to write these short sentences because I have a hard time speaking English; write—forget it; and read—I can't; and I can't remember the lines. So I beg you to write some short lines for me, and you make it very Shakespearean and long.
AB: I was just thinking you should do Treme with Billy Joel because we have this sort of strange and tortured relationship. We're actually pretty friendly, we've had dinner a couple of times, and Billy knows full well I hate his music.
ER: You hate his music? I like Billy Joel!
AB: Sometimes you frighten me. It used to be a firing offense—you could be fired in any restaurant I've ever worked if you were heard listening to Billy Joel and visibly enjoying his music. But what's interesting is Billy knows this.
ER: It was romantic! In nightclubs, and when it was slow you could dance with the lady and Billy Joel was singing. It reminds me of that.
AB: If I come over to your house for lunch and you're playing "Uptown Girl" and boogying around the pool, I'm turning around and heading back to my house. But I like him personally a lot. We've actually sat at a table together, I'm socking back the Negronis, and he was like "Really, you hate all my songs?" "Yeah, pretty much." I liked his first band, Attila; they rocked.
ER: You could have done No Reservations or The Layover in the Hamptons.
AB: It was bad for my street cred, but now I don't care. Now I'm a dad. I'm looking forward to barbecuing in the most unholy way. The significant part of this summer, for me, is going to be indoctrinating my daughter into the things I remember most fondly from my childhood when my parents would take me to the beach—being half-frightened, but thrilled as my dad put me on his shoulders and ran into the surf. Fresh corn on the cob, steamers, good tomatoes. I'm buying some dad pants.
ER: You think the neighbors are going to be happy about that? Are you going to blast the Ramones or the Sex Pistols and have this wild party?
AB: I'm going to be the best neighbor ever. There will be no parties at my house. There will be the sound of sizzling meat and a happy child and her friends. There will be no music. There will not be hipsters cannon-balling into the pool. I'm going to be like Ina Garten; that's the lifestyle I want. I'm going to be cooking, shopping, and puttering around. I plan to putter.
ER: Do you plan to be social?
AB: I would barbecue with Rachael Ray. I've practically made a career of making fun and being cruel to her, and she has always taken it with humor. That's very hard to not admire. And she's a New York Dolls fan. Even the New York Dolls have told me that she knows their catalog going back forever.
ER: I always attend the Hayground School [Great Chefs Dinner] event, which is on July 28. It's a great camp. My son goes during the day, and I always support them. Also, I always go to the Watermill [Center Summer Benefit] event, with all the artists. It's wacky, crazy.
AB: I have another order of business. Years ago, I gave you a La Caja China; where is it? Sitting in your garage some place in Sag Harbor? This summer we're putting that thing together, and we're throwing a large, delicious animal in there.
ER: It's basically a box that you can throw a pig inside. You close the box, put some charcoal on top, and the pig cooks slowly, slowly, slowly, but at the end the skin is crispy. You gave it to me a long time ago, and I was lazy and put it in the garage. You're going to have to put it together; I'm not very manual. When I go to the Hamptons, the only thing I do is I make the house a sanctuary; I'm in charge of the incense, of lighting the candles, of cleaning the Buddha statues. My wife is very practical; she's in charge of taking care of the house. I shop for the food and I cook.
AB: Your summer—I'm getting worried. So far it's the incense, the feng shui, the Buddha—it's like summer with Caine from Kung Fu.
ER: No, no. I smoke cigars; I drink local wine to support the local wineries; I cook; I eat; I relax in my hammock; I go to the beach; I play in the pool with my son; and that's it.
AB: Is there any place to eat out here? Where would I find steamer clams and draft beer, served by a bartender with a tattoo of Ozzy Osbourne? Do you have such things?
ER: In your neighborhood? No. But I know a place—Dockers Waterside, that's a really cool place for steamers and beer. I go to Serafina just for the pizza. I love Pierre's; it's a great restaurant in Bridgehampton, and it has to be mentioned because his food is some of the best in the Hamptons. And he's really a character. I love Nick & Toni's and The American Hotel. And then Sunset Beach is cool; I love it. The Beacon in Sag Harbor is really good; he's a good friend, too. In Southampton I go to Sant Ambroeus just for the spaghetti Bolognese. Of course your daughter will be thrilled with all the ice cream.
AB: My daughter likes oysters; she would be thrilled to eat oysters on the half shell.
ER: Dockside Bar & Grill in Sag Harbor also has great steamers and oysters. I know a lot of good restaurants, but I love to cook at home and I like to cook everything outside on the grill. I do very little in the kitchen because I'm always afraid that I'm going to have to clean after.
AB: I figure I cook, so somebody else cleans. I'm actually planning menus in my head.
ER: Like the real clambake? The real one in the sand?
AB: It's actually an inefficient means of cooking because in a traditional Cape Cod-style clambake, where you dig a hole in the ground, put a clean metal trash can in, and load it up with the clams, potatoes, corn, and lobster, the cooking time is not right. It's too many moving parts; somebody is going to come out the loser, and it's usually the clams. But I started cooking out in Cape Cod, so if I'm really good at anything, it's New England and Portuguese clam with chorizo, Portuguese style mussels, and squid stews. I could do a clambake, but I would cook all of my elements separately. I would like to revisit our Twitter argument on ingredients versus technique.
ER: You go buy some rotten steamers, and I'll go buy some fresh steamers. Then with your technique you make the steamers delicious, and with my technique I make my steamers the way they are.
AB: There's no making rotten steamers delicious. I'll get a tough, cheap piece of meat, and I'll make it really delicious. I'll make feijoada (Brazilian stew of beans, beef, and pork) out of a bunch of scraps and salt-cured meat.
ER: You don't find scraps of meat in the Hamptons. You find filet mignon, rib eye, and T-bone. At the end of the day, Anthony, what I was referring to was freshness. Everything can be the best ingredient. A knuckle can be the best ingredient, but if it's a rotten knuckle what can you do with it? If you're talking about feijoada, whatever you're going to use is preserved, so in a sense, it's a quality ingredient. To me a good ingredient is a fresh ingredient. The argument is done.
photography by Melanie Dunea; Styling by Lauri Eisenberg; Styling assistance by Lora Schlein; Grooming by Nikki Wang Prop; styling by Stephanie DiTullio; Shot on location at Sunset Beach