If you think Chef Eric Ripert is too good to be true, think again. I am pleased to report that the man who is known for commanding respect while still being both extraordinarily kind and extraordinarily attractive lives up to his reputation, and then some.
Ripert appeared at his restaurant, 10 Arts, at the Ritz Carlton on March 26. Although labeled a book signing, the event was in fact a cozy cocktail hour, devoid of the assembly line drudgery of the Martha Stewart event (see my earlier entry). The Ritz lobby was wide open, well populated without feeling crowded, with people clutching Ripert's new book, On the Line. I looked to my left to see that Ripert was sitting on an arc-shaped booth, happily posing for photographs and chatting with people. There was no line. Servers were bringing complimentary canapes to people.
I was overwhelmed. Here I was going to be given the chance to sit down - not humbly ask for a signature, but sit down - with one of my all-time favorite chefs. Co-owner of Le Bernadin in New York, pal of Tony Bourdain, James Beard Award winner, Ripert captured a place in my heart with his appearances on Top Chef. Adopting a Tim Gunn-esque ability to relay insightful criticism while still being supportive, Ripert presented as a soft-spoken culinary genius who genuinely cared about both food and people.
And here he was. I reported to the host stand to retrieve my copy of the book and expressed my anxious enthusiasm. The host relayed how pleased she was about how kind he was in person, and how different that was from a typical executive chef. I attempted to queue in the small circle of people milling around Ripert's table and a kind soul offered to take my picture with Ripert. I casually replied that this would be nice, inside thinking, "yes! double yes! Thank God for you, kind stranger!"
So it came to pass that I marched up to Chef Ripert, extended my hand, announced my name with some measure of confidence, and sat next to him. Ripert leaned in as the aforementioned kind stranger took our picture. Even post-flash, Ripert remembered my name asked if I would like the book to be made out to me. Trying to get past my thoughts of "he just! said! my! name!" I responded that yes, that would be great. I asked him how he managed to stay so calm and patient with the chefs on Top Chef, to which he replied that he understood they are faced with difficult tasks and he wants to be helpful and constructive. I struggled to memorize the words and the moments, realizing how great he was.
Lest you have any doubt about the man, you need look no further than the way he signed the book -- he spelled out his name after his signature. Amazing.
10 Arts is located at the Ritz Carlton, 10 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. Ripert's personal blog can be found at http://www.aveceric.com/.