On Friday night, DC foodies have a chance to see a pair of bonafide celebrity chefs doing what they do second best: sitting around laughing and chatting with each other on all kinds of topics. Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert are coming to the Warner Theater for what is being billed as “an evening of storytelling and observation providing the audience with a frank and provocative back and forth about what really goes on behind the kitchen doors- from both ends of the spectrum.”
That’s right. Bourdain and Ripert. Onstage. Together. Just hanging out, you know, like a pair of bros. And you can join them (maybe even ask them a question if you get lucky).
It’s a total foodie geek-out opportunity, and the bonhomie between the two chefs pretty much guarantees it’s going to be a good time. To this day one of my favorite episodes of “No Reservations” involved Bourdain getting back on the line at Les Halles and eventually being joined by Ripert on the fish station. Grub Street has a great reminder of just what fun the episode was to watch.
We had a chance to chat with Eric Ripert in advance of his visit, and we took the opportunity to ask him about the show, his “regular guest judge” role on the upcoming DC-based season of Top Chef, and how much the city’s dining scene has changed since he was cooking at the Watergate twenty years ago:
Capital Spice: Good afternoon, Chef. Thanks for talking with us today. We’re already looking forward to your show on Friday night – what can you tell us about it?
Eric Ripert: It’s going to be a lot of fun. The setup is one of a moderated conversation, with a question and answer period at the end.
CS: Can you give us an idea of what you’ll be talking about?
ER: It’s hard to say…for us, it really is going to be a conversation, and we have a very easy dynamic. But I expect we will be speaking about things like the current state of “fine dining” – what it means today, the state that it’s in. Of course, we’ll likely also talk about things like Top Chef, so there will be something for everyone.
CS: It looks like you’ve only got two of these evenings scheduled (the second is in Baltimore on Saturday night). What made you pick DC for this?
ER: Washington is an easy choice – it’s relatively close to New York, where Tony and I are both based, I have a restaurant here, and it is a city that enjoys good food.
More of our interview with “The Ripper” – including some of his favorite recent dining experiences and some Top Chef gossip – after the jump.
CS: You mentioned your restaurant, Westend Bistro. Do you have many opportunities to check in with your chefs here?
ER: Generally speaking, someone from my team comes down to visit at least once a month. It’s not always me, and we don’t really keep count, but I can tell you I was there all week last week.
CS: You were in town quite a bit recently, filming the upcoming season of Top Chef, weren’t you?
ER: Yes. They have announced that I will be a ‘regular guest judge’ this season, filling in for Gail Simmons on some episodes throughout the season.
CS: Any gossip about the filming you can share with us?
ER: It will be a very exciting season to watch, with many highlights that you would expect from a season set in Washington, DC. One of our guests is Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the contestants were even able to cook in the heart of the CIA headquarters!
CS: Did you have any standout meals while you were in town?
ER: I always enjoy eating in Washington, but while I was here recently I had some very good meals at places like CityZen, Zaytinya, and Bistro Francais…that place never changes.
CS: You got your start in America here in DC, working under Jean-Louis Palladin in 1989. What changes have you noticed in Washington’s dining scene since then?
ER: Both the variety and number of restaurants have increased significantly, and definitely for the better. Washington is absolutely a “foodie” city.
CS: That term – foodie – has taken on a negative connotation with some people. What does it mean to you?
ER: Like any word, it can mean different things to different people. To me, it is someone who is passionate about good food. But if you mean it as a food groupie or something like that, it can mean that as well.
CS: You’ve got a show called “Avec Eric” on PBS. On the website, there are quite a few pictures of you taking photos of food with an Olympic Stylus camera. What are your thoughts on restaurant patrons taking pictures of their meals?
ER: In my private life, I frequently take pictures of food. I think it’s an important part of an experience, so I like to capture it to look back on it later. It doesn’t bother me if people are taking pictures of their meals as long as they are respectful of their fellow diners – don’t use a flash, don’t make a big production out of it.
CS: One last question about Westend Bistro. When new dishes are added to the menu, are they usually the work of [chef de cuisine] Joe Palma, or do they come from the top down?
ER: We work with all of our chefs to make sure that they are in sync with our culture, that their approach to food represents what we represent. Primarily it’s about simplicity, making the main item in a dish shine. The local chefs then have freedom to create dishes within that framework.
CS: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. We look forward to seeing you and Chef Bourdain at the Warner Theater on Friday night.
ER: Thank you.