Talking at the Pass: Chefs Eric Ripert and Jennifer Carroll

Introducing a new series where mentors and their now independently successful disciples reunite to chat about their time together and what they learned from each other. Our first installment features celebrated chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin and Jennifer Carroll, a breakout star on Top Chef and the chef-partner of Requin.

Eric Ripert and Jennifer Carroll

Eric, what was your first impression of Jennifer?

Eric Ripert: When we hired Jen in 2003, we were impressed with her personality, her skills, her motivation, and passion to learn. At that very young age, she had her own vision of opening a restaurant and doing something on her own one day. So, we were very impressed by that drive.

Jennifer Carroll: I wanted to learn from the best and work at the best place possible. I was all about seafood, so the best and only place for me to go was Le Bernardin. I walked in off the street and dropped my résumé off. They called me to come in for a stage. I was so nervous and excited at the same time. It’s very intimidating walking into that kitchen. There are 40 cooks, and everyone is working and moving. When Eric came in and I got to meet him, I totally froze. It was something I was looking forward to for so many years. I can’t even put into words how much that day and that meeting changed my life.

Eric, do you remember a pivotal moment when you saw the depth of her talent and what her true potential might be?

ER: At Le Bernardin, everybody starts on the cold side of the kitchen and then you move around to our many stations. Then we choose the best staffer overall to become the saucier, which is a very difficult task. We were impressed with Jen’s qualities of leadership, though we hadn’t asked her to be a leader, so we gave her the position. She did a fantastic job on the sauce. Very impressive. I believe she was the first female saucier in our kitchen, and that’s a big deal, because it’s a position of power and leadership. Then we mentored Jen to be a good sous chef. At that time, we had the opportunity to open a restaurant in Philadelphia, 10 Arts Bistro [Which is now closed – ed.]. Jen was performing so well that I right away thought, “We are going to ask her if she would take that position,” because she got respect from her team. Respect is not something that can be given. The team is very tough in the kitchen. If you make mistakes and don’t know what you’re talking about, you won’t get respect, especially from older employees. But Jen earned that respect from them.

What was it like for you, Jen, when Eric asked you to head up 10 Arts Bistro?

JC: Each week, Eric and I would have a meeting. We would talk about life, goals, and the future. This meeting when Eric brought it up, I was definitely taken aback and shocked. I was not prepared to hear that. I didn’t think it would be happening at that meeting.

When Jen was going on to Top Chef, did you have reservations about her doing it or did you encourage her?Continue Reading

On Our Plate This Week: TIME Touts Our iPhone App; Dine Out for No Kid Hungry Enrollment; Restaurant Weeks Continue in Vegas, Miami + Orlando

Josh Ozersky thinks our app is fit for foodies!

Happenings on and around OpenTable this week…

* Thanks to Josh Ozersky and TIME for naming our app one of its 10 great iPhone apps for foodies.

* Restaurants can help end childhood hunger by signing up to join the Share Our Strength Dine Out for No Kid Hungry campaign taking place September 18-24, 2011. Register here!

* Restaurant Weeks happening this week include Las Vegas Restaurant WeekMiami Spice, and Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month.

* Looking ahead, reservations are now open for additional restaurant weeks, including Center City District Restaurant WeekLouisiana Seafood Restaurant WeekMain Line Restaurant Week, and San Diego Restaurant Week.

* Have you found out what type of diner you are? What are you waiting for? Take our quick quiz and stop wondering!

* Le Bernardin will reopen on Friday after an extensive and impressive renovation.

* Meet the winner of Jo’s 2nd Annual Labor Day Pancake Eating contest!

Top Chef Just Desserts Season 2, Episode 2: Michael Laiskonis Is Back from Bogota

Would you smile if your cake looked this? Me neither!

As promised, Michael Laiskonis, Executive Pastry Chef at Le Bernardin, returns to share his insights on the second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts!

Michael, you were traveling last week and barely made it back to NYC this week, due to Hurricane Irene. We’re glad you’re here safely. Did you enjoy any fortuitous culinary detours as you tried to make your way back home in the aftermath?

Not so much, as we decided to plow through all the way to New York as quickly as possible. My sous chef and I were cooking as part of a food and wine festival in Bogota Colombia; Matt Hoyle, chef of Nobu 57 and his sous chef were in the same situation, finding ourselves stuck Miami. We decided to drive; I’d say the most notable culinary experience was a simple, but mighty fine breakfast in Dunn, North Carolina.

I know you’ve caught up on the premiere, so let’s touch on some of the contenders. I think Orlando is sure to be this season’s love-hate contestant. He’s obviously EXTREMELY talented, but the editing is setting him up to be Mr. Not-So-Nice-Guy. Who else among this group is one (or are ones) to watch? Chris?

Clever editing made me think Rebecca would be packing her whisk after she injured her wrist.

I know Chris personally, and I know he’s got the skills to go all the way. I think Sally, Amanda, and Matt are also the chefs to watch, as well as Orlando. But, as we’ve learned from every series or iteration of the show, there are quiet dark horses, and seemingly simple challenges can trip up the best of talents.

Last last-week question: I was not at all shocked at Lena’s departure. As soon as she mentioned something about having won Best Cupcake of Seattle or somewhere, I figured she was dead in the water. Thoughts?

Ah yes, I think it was Austin. Having been in their position, I’m sure the judges based their decision solely on the merit of the showpiece and desserts produced. But definitely, humility is important; it’s not what you’ve done, but what you’ll do next.

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Top Chef Just Desserts: Chef Michael Laiskonis Looks Back and Ahead

Would Chef Laiskonis ever participate in Top Chef Just Desserts Masters? We’ll ask him next week!

Le Bernardin‘s Executive Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis will be joining OpenTable to report on the second season of Top Chef Just Desserts. He’s out of town for the premiere, but will be with us next week until the finale. Meanwhile, he shared his thoughts on last season and what’s to come.

“The second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts debuted last ight, and once again I’ll be reporting with an armchair perspective following each week’s episode. Before the action begins, perhaps we can quickly recap last season’s drama, as well as predict what we might see as the current season unfolds!

The inaugural group of pastry chefs ran a gauntlet of tough challenges, from wedding cakes to edible fashion pieces, ‘savory’ desserts to humble bakesale items. A few contestants saw highs and lows, but through it all, the very talented Yigit Pura emerged the victor. In the end, I think the series shed a rare spotlight on the inner workings of the sweet kitchen; I can’t wait to see more of the same this time around!

From what I’ve seen and heard of this season’s roster, the competition should just as fierce. I’m betting the bar will be raised, with a higher degree of difficulty; as was the case last season, I’m betting the challengers won’t have the luxury of working from written recipes. The judges, too, will be heavy hitters, and rank among the industry’s finest.

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