Eric Ripert discovered Buddhism at the Charles de Gaulle airport when he was looking for a copy of Playboy. When his eyes fell upon a Buddhist book, he decided the Playboy could wait. He’s now a Vajrayana Buddhist influenced by the Geluk and Nyingma schools, and an award-winning chef at the prestigious restaurant, Le Bernardin, in New York.
He’s just been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal after a Rubin Museum appearance; he spoke with Lion’s Roar about bringing Buddhism to the kitchen, and more.
Ripert hosted the Tibetan Aid Project’s 2009 Taste and Tribute NY. Always popular, Ripert’s been featured on Bravo’s Top Chef as well as numerous talk shows, including The Late Show with David Letterman. He is the chair of City Harvest’s Food Council, which works to bring together New York’s top chefs and restaurateurs to raise funds and increase the quality and quantity of food donations in the city.
How can we bring Buddhism to the kitchen?
In many ways—by promoting tolerance, by paying homage to every ingredient we use, vegetable or animal. I follow the teaching of the Middle Way when I am managing my team and it’s a challenge—especially under pressure. In the past, we managed the kitchen from a very dogmatic and borderline violent way, teaching through humiliation instead of positive reinforcement (actually an old tradition in my industry, especially in France). Today I promote kindness and respect. Cooking can be a very meditative process and I encourage the cooks to focus on the moment more than I did in the past.
Tell us about the Tibetan Aid Project, and how you got involved.
I discovered The Tibetan Aid Project (TAP) because of my friend Laurent Manrique, a chef in San Francisco’s Aqua Restaurant who organized a dinner in support of TAP and invited me to cook with him there. I thought that it was a very interesting, ambitious, and generous project to print sacred books, and then ship them to Bodhgaya to give back to the Tibetan people and monasteries—all by volunteer labor.
What should be the role of high-end restaurants, regarding environmental and health-conscious food awareness?
We have a responsibility as humans to care for our planet and all sentient beings. Therefore we should try to inspire and inform as many people as we can in a subtle but efficient way; how to preserve, restore, and protect our environment, ethics, and health. Thirty years ago we didn’t hear about climate change, over-fishing, and pollution as much. Information on these subjects is fairly new and cannot be resolved with drastic measures. I do not believe in being aggressive or militant. Again, I follow the Middle Way. For instance, our restaurant is becoming green—slowly but surely. We do not serve fish that are on the verge of extinction. We use mostly organic ingredients. We are also very engaged within our community. For example, we support organizations like City Harvest this year, for whom we donate a dollar on behalf of each person who dines in the restaurant or purchases my cookbook, On The Line, at the restaurant. We promote peace and compassion everywhere we can.