Friday Review: 32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line by Eric Ripert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eric Ripert is a well-known, Michelin-starred chef at one of New York’s best restaurants, Le Bernardin. He grew up in the Andorra region of France, where his mother was an excellent cook, but insisted that the kitchen was no place for a boy. He adored his father and was devastated when his parents divorced. His mother remarried, but his stepfather was cold and something of a bully. His father died a few years after, leaving Eric lonely and withdrawn. A local chef took Ripert under his wing and introduced the boy, at eleven years old, to the wonder of cooking. From there, Ripert went to culinary school and to work in some of the top Paris restaurants, where he learned that school was the easy part. Learning to survive and advance in a working kitchen was another challenge completely.

Okay, yeah, this is another chef’s autobiography/memoir. I like food, and I like to learn about those who cook at high levels. Eric Ripert is certainly at the top of that level. Le Bernardin is world famous, he’s earned many Michelin stars, and has been awarded the James Beard Award four times. But all that doesn’t mean his life was easy. His childhood was spent mostly by himself, especially after his beloved father died. His mother and grandmother kept him out of the kitchen except to eat the food they prepared. His one refuge in those days was in the kitchen of a local restaurant where the chef recognized his love of food and encouraged the boy to learn to cook. His early years were a struggle. The working kitchens of the time were unpleasant and often angry places, where the low chef on the totem pole was bullied and often the bore the brunt of the anger when things went wrong. At 24, he moved to New York to try to get in on the burgeoning high end food culture there.

The book is nicely written. Ripert doesn’t dwell overmuch on the hard times, but he doesn’t gloss over them, either. His love for his father is evident, as is his eventual realization that he wasn’t the perfect person young Eric adored. Still, the older Ripert was a large influence on Eric and the love shines through everything else. He narrates his years at school and on the line in his early kitchen jobs without smoothing over the stress, exhaustion, and even fear that was a part of that life. It’s an interesting story, and one that sheds some light on a not well known part of the life of a famous chef. I enjoyed reading it.

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