Q&A: Eric Ripert of 10Arts

ripertEric Ripert is back in town today for the first time since the opening of 10 Arts. After three days of being slammed (a good thing, really) here, Chef returned to his post at Le Bernardin to play catch up and to get in some much-needed quality time with his family over Memorial Weekend. He’s back again today, keeping it local and hitting the City Hall Farmers’ Market. After two weeks of phone tag, our reporter came through with a chat (and a lot of messages on her mobile phone, which felt pretty fabulous until she had to delete them to gain more mailbox space), but no lifetime supply of hazelnut beurre blanc-laced brook trout. Forget the new restaurant, her big thrill was learning that champagne loving Ripert has an affinity for dance music and clubbing.

After the jump, new Phoodie.info contributor Dawn E. Warden grills Ripert about all things 10Arts, monkfish, other Philly flavors, and where he likes to go clubbing.

PHOODIE: Why Philadelphia?

ER: I really love the relationship I have with the Ritz — they’re committed to excellence — so when they were looking for something new, I came to take a look. I was very ignorant and had never been before — the buildings are so beautiful, and I loved seeing the murals all over the city. I was also surprised by all the action in the neighborhoods around the Ritz; there’s a good energy here. I spent a lot of time exploring the restaurants to gain an understanding of the city and what you can find. I checked out Le Bec Fin, Vetri, Amada and Rouge, but also lots of small places. There are a lot of ethnicities throughout the different neighborhoods… I had lunch at a great Lebanese place by the Italian Market and at the butcher there — the one that does all the game — too… I was really inspired by the diversity and quality of the food. And of course, the question on everyone’s minds…the cheese steak: From Pat’s — with cheese whiz AND provolone.

PHOODIE: Has our local gastronomic scene influenced the menu at 10 Arts?

ER: In some way, yes. We’ve got pork belly, rabbit — that came from [Chef de Cuisine] Jennifer [Carroll]; she told me a lot of people here were enjoying rabbit. We’re definitely looking to create a sense of uniqueness, and to take advantage of local and regional ingredients. We’re using a lot of local vegetables and trying to involve farmers. We get corn for the corn chowder from an Amish farm about three hours from Philly — and for the popcorn — and we have Philly-style pretzels on the bar menu. The city loves burgers, but burgers are everywhere. Good burgers are not. We do use a lot of mushrooms, but they don’t really scream Philly. We’re trying to have a strong identity with the décor and the location, but we don’t want to be gimmicky — no cheese steaks — this isn’t Disney World.

PHOODIE: Where do you get the bulk of your fish? What are your thoughts on over-fishing and sustainable seafood?

ER: Right now we are using a Philly company, Samuel and Sons, here and in Washington, and occasionally in New York. All our seafood is organically farmed or wild and sustainable.

PHOODIE: We need more monkfish in this town, are you going to make it happen?

ER: If I knew this, it would already be on the menu. 

PHOODIE: How involved were you with the restaurant’s look?

ER: A little bit, but not too much, because I’m not a designer. Of course we were involved with the kitchen — the space is a little challenging, not as open as we would have liked — but we’re happy with it now. The architecture so beautiful on its own, but I give a lot of credit to the design team [EDG-Engstrom Design Group], there’s a great balance of modern and classic, sophistication and fun.

PHOODIE: What was your reaction when you saw how it all came together?

ER: I think I said, ‘WOW!’ The rotunda is grand and beautiful with the massive columns and gorgeous marble. But the space needed some intimacy and some contemporary touches. There’s a lot of texture and color and the lighting and wine storage are unusual. I’ve been all over the world, and I don’t know any other restaurant like this. It’s very unique; cozy and comfortable, but then you look around you and realize you’re eating in this marble dome with a huge oculus over your head. It’s stunning.

PHOODIE: What is your philosophy on the relationship between looks, menu concept and actual presentation of dishes?

ER: Presentation doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does have to be exciting. It’s the first thing you look at when you go into a restaurant. When you have a beautiful product, it showcases itself. Like the wild boar proscuitto—it’s so beautiful; it doesn’t need much. It’s perfection.

PHOODIE: What exactly about Jennifer made you feel she was “ready to run her own kitchen?”

ER: You know, this is her first job running a kitchen, but I knew she could manage and I knew she could cook. She was an extremely well respected sous chef here [Le Bernardin] and a very good cook. And I knew she missed her family, so I was very happy to send her back to Philly. I’m going to tell her about the monkfish, by the way.

PHOODIE: How many test runs did the kitchen go through prior to the opening?

ER: 10 days before the preview party, we started hosting family and friends nights. But you know, it takes much longer; it’s not a matter of days or weeks. It’s months. One day, everyone shows up at the same time, another they’re all eating from the same side of the kitchen. Each day, we’re discovering something new and we have a lot of situations we’re resolving.

PHOODIE: Were you unhappy with anything at the preview party? Is there something you wish you/your staff had done better?

ER: Overall, I am very pleased. Everyone showed up as a team and was really excited and proud to be delivering something great. Everyday, they know that we’re here to please and to make guests feel good that they didn’t waste their night. It sounds corny, but it’s as simple as ensuring our guests have a smile on their faces when they leave.

PHOODIE: Okay, but what we really want to know, is who your favorite deejay is, and your favorite club spot…

ER: In Philly? None yet. My favorite deejay is Tiësto. He’s Dutch, but he’s known internationally, and he tours the best dance clubs all over the world. He’s coming to New York this summer; I’ll be there.

— Dawn E. Warden

Previously: First Look: Eric Ripert’s 10Arts

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