We recently finished reading 32 Yolks, the memoir published by acclaimed chef Eric Ripert. You may know Chef Ripert as the 3-Michelin Starred chef of acclaimed New York City restaurant Le Bernardin. Or you may know him from various episodes of Anthony Bourdain's TV programs, where Chef Ripert often played the foil and best buddy on Tony's culinary adventures. 32 Yolks definitely shows a side of Chef Ripert that you don't see on TV. While dark at times, and sometimes sad, it certainly was eye opening and refreshingly honest.
First, what's behind the somewhat funny book title, you may ask? Well, allegedly during Chef Ripert's first day as a commis cook at the famed Parisian restaurant La Tour d'Argent (we've been twice--it's an unbelievable experience) he was making so many mistakes on the line that the head chef tried to give him a job he couldn't mess up. Make hollandaise sauce, the head chef instructed. Fresh from culinary school, Chef Ripert admitted that he didn't quite remember how to make the finicky sauce. The head chef's response was classically French: just use 32 egg yolks. As you would expect in such a situation, things didn't end well with that first sauce attempt.
But, funny anecdotes aside (and there are quite a few), the book actually conveys the angst and sadness that accompanied a childhood filled with the pain of his parents' divorce, his father's early death, and the verbal and physical abuse endured at the hands of his mother's boyfriend and later 2nd husband. While some chefs (Marco Pierre White among them) brush over the hardships of a rough upbringing, Chef Ripert dives right in. It's almost like the process of recording these bad experiences was cathartic for him all these years later--freeing him from the pain caused before he was a superstar chef.
Chef Ripert goes on to describe working for a young and hungry Joel Robuchon in Paris. His first taste of daily performance that demanded true perfection, the experience seems both formative, and harrowing. Reliving the preparation for a seemingly simple-sounding lobster salad, he admits that he dreamed of plating the 90 perfectly-spaced dots of sauce on a plate filled with lobster, crystal-clear bouillon, and apple, avocado, and tomato garnishes for years after he left Joel Robuchon's employ.
The stress and constant belittling he found in Joel Robuchon's kitchen seems to have led him to become the chef he is today. A strict Buddhist, Chef Ripert is not the pot-throwing terror that Robuchon was. Unfortunately, we don't get to see the transformation from young sous chef to the culinary force he is today. The book ends with Chef Ripert leaving for the United States to embark on what we now know is a journey ending at Le Bernardin in New York. It would be nice to know what happened during the 5 years in between. Maybe those stories will come out eventually.
Until then, we'll have to just add a few more yolks, and keep whisking until we get the perfect sauce that eluded Chef Ripert all those years ago . . .