Help workers, forget stars: Renowned chef Eric Ripert re-opens his kitchen

NEW YORK (AFP) – Before coronavirus struck New York, one of the world’s premier seafood restaurants Le Bernardin was offering tasting menus including striped bass truffle tartare and grilled lobster mi-cuit.

Today it serves up hundreds of plastic trays of roast chicken, rice and cabbage to feed the city’s medical workers.

Three-star chef from France Eric Ripert reopened one of his Manhattan kitchens on Wednesday for the first time since March 13 – where four of his 180 currently unemployed staff prepare some 400 daily meals.

Balanced menus including pasta bolognese with broccoli, meatloaf, couscous or tajine are set for delivery to health workers sheltering in the central neighbourhood’s hotels, who descended on the embattled city en masse to reinforce hospitals overwhelmed with patients.

“For now it’s important to help out the overall community, specifically doctors and nurses,” Ripert told AFP.

Le Bernardin chef and co-owner Eric Ripert. PHOTO: AFP

The goal is to assist “people who take enormous risks, see horrible things during the day – when they return to their hotel, they can relax and eat something tasty”.

Even if the pandemic slowed its once relentless pace in New York, the city remains the nation’s coronavirus epicentre, with more than 19,000 confirmed or probable deaths linked to COVID-19.

The 55-year-old Ripert’s project to deliver meals is in collaboration with the Jose Andres-founded World Central Kitchen aid organisation. Authorities have not yet projected a date to begin relaxing confinement measures. Ripert hopes he might be able to re-open Le Bernardin in September.

Though that dream date seems far off and is not fixed, he cannot help but consider the famous restaurant post-pandemic.

He does not plan to offer elegant dishes to go, as some Michelin-starred chefs have done the world round – but “it definitely won’t be the same Bernardin it was before the closure,” he said.

“We will do everything we can to work for our diners to have a quality time at Le Bernardin, and keep our employees able to work,” the chef said. “Then the stars will come – or not come. Today it’s not really what’s important, when we think of the global crisis we are living,” he added.