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

Top Chef Texas Episode 14: At Cloche Range with Chef Ed ‘Cowbell’ Hardy

"Do these shoes go with this napkin?"

I’ve got Valentine’s Day on my mind lately, but, thanks to all the cloches, we’re getting dark, Brad Whitewood, Sr.-style, on the latest episode of Top Chef: Texas with Ed Hardy of Red Rooster Harlem.

Hey, Ed! You scared yet? You oughta be. So, first up, why does Bev scare everyone as much as Christopher Walken in At Close Range? She’s not at all creepy!

Are we doing a Christopher Walken 80’s movie this week? It had better have Crispin Glover in it, or I’m outta here [Checks IMDB] Okay, it does. But, next time run the theme past me, okay? Much like Crispin Glover, Beverly creeps out everyone anytime she’s in the room. From Paul the Monk to Ed the Clown to Lindsay the Southern Drawl Ya’ll, they all don’t seem to be comfortable with her. Even Tom seems to pre-defend her by saying that she has been doing a good job. There is obviously something going on here. Having a lot of faith in yourself and your abilities is no substitute for actually having those abilities.

So, the blind-folded pantry QFC definitely has a very marching-to-my-doom feel to it. I wish they’d done a total smell test to choose things, as this seemed more an exercise in luck than skill.

Did you see them smoking in the opening? I’ve never understood why my peers insist on pursuing a habit that will directly affect their palates and careers. So, to answer question, Caroline, I don’t think these guys would be able to pass the smell test anymore. Did you see Paul sniffing and tasting? He was like the calm in the middle of the storm. Vegetables should be easy enough to feel out. I think with the right idea for a dish and a simple plan, you can rule out luck.

"Ha! Did you see the look on Ed's face when Bev walked through the doors? I thought he was going to wet himself!"

In terms of the QFC, two contenders’ fish dishes are undercooked, which, in light of  the chef-judges’ reputations makes me believe that they were REALLY undercooked because slightly underdone is almost the sweet spot. Thoughts?

The devil is in the details. Tom seemed to be giving Paul and his underdone shrimp a chance to argue the point. Beverly’s underdone bass seemed like a forgone conclusion, especially since we saw her start to butcher the fish with about five minutes left. Bass is a fish that just doesn’t taste good underdone. The flesh gets really chewy. Shrimp, however, is a little more forgiving.

Ed comes close, but Sarah wins, and she takes ultimate immunity. Isn’t this the smart choice? And, why are people calling her chicken for not taking the car and heading straight to the final EC? Will she live to tell?

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