L+T: How do you conceive a dish, for example the Butter Poached Lobsters with Tarragon and Champaign, which was named best dish of the year in the past?
ER: You can think of a dish (pointing to the countless recipes and concepts drawn on the whiteboard nearby), but you will change 80 percent of the dish by the time it goes on the menu. Also, we change things all the time, so even the butter poached lobster is gone. Changing things make you stay fresh and creative all the time. Dishes come to me all the time. I wake up in the middle of the night and write them down so I don’t forget them. If it works, it goes on the menu, but nothing ever stays on the menu.
L+T: What is it like working for you at Le Bernardin? Have you ever found a young chef so good that he or she immediately rose to the top?
ER: Everyone at Le Bernardin is very talented. Great cooks come to us; we don’t have to find them. But, it takes a long time to rise to the top here. You are one of many cooks in the kitchen for three years. Then, if you make it, you may be at the saucing station alone. From there, you can do three more years before you make it to sous-chef.
L+T: In twenty years, will you still be down here under Le Bernardin every day?
ER: Le Bernardin is my house in many aspects. I live here, I teach here, I come here every day. I love it and yes it will always be my house. I enjoy mentoring, sharing, and teaching. Even still, I love the media and I love doing my shows on television and being able to travel. On Top Chef, I just go and judge the cooking. I don’t know whom the heroes and villains are, I just judge the food. I’ve tasted some horrible dishes there, and some very good dishes. Tom (Colicchio) and Padma (Lakshmi) lead the show. I have the easy job. But, Le Bernardin will be my home, always.
L+T: Outside of the restaurant, what are you passionate about?
ER: I am a real audiophile. I don’t play any instruments, but great stereo equipment is a real vice. In my opinion, Martin Logan speakers are the best. I have them in my house in the Hamptons. They are so good that when you close your eyes, they can separate each instrument for you. They are so crisp that when you listen to Pavarotti, you can hear him breath during verses, or you can hear a musician’s fingernails against a guitar.
In my NY apartment I have Vienna speakers, and a collection of old pre-amps from MacIntosh. I like watches (pulling back his sleeve to display a rare Vacheron Constantin Les Historiques American 1921), and I’ve been to the Vacheron factory. It is really amazing to see what goes into these pieces – the level of craftsmanship is unbelievable, although, watchmakers aren’t the most talkative people in the world. They were just staring through their loupes the entire time I was there. But, I love Vacheron and have a 1 of 50 Patrimony Traditionnelle in platinum. I love to ski and I love to eat, of course. I take 45-minute walks through Central Park every single morning after I drop my son off at school. His school is three blocks away from my apartment, but he is late every day. I am very happy now with all my interests, my career, and my life. It took me a little while to figure it all out, but that’s life.