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On the Line: How One Great Restaurant Made it to the Top and Stayed There [Hardcover]

Eric Ripert , Christine Muhlke
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Nov. 1 2008
Take one top New York restaurant, add danger, drama, and dialogue, toss in their best recipes, and you have a cooking classic.

How does a 4-star restaurant stay on top for more than two decades? In On the Line, chef Eric Ripert takes readers behind the scenes at Le Bernardin, one of just three New York City restaurants to earn three Michelin stars. Any fan of gourmet dining who ever stole a peek behind a restaurant kitchen's swinging doors will love this unique insider's account, with its interviews, inventory checklists, and fly-on-the-wall dialogue that bring the business of haute cuisine to life.

From the sudden death of Le Bernardin's founding chef, Gilbert Le Coze, to Ripert's stressful but triumphant takeover of the kitchen at age 29, the story has plenty of drama. But as Chef Ripert and writer Christine Muhlke reveal, every day is an adventure in a perfectionistic restaurant kitchen. Foodies will love reading about the inner workings of a top restaurant, from how a kitchen is organized to the real cost of the food and the fierce discipline and organization it takes to achieve culinary perfection on the plate almost 150,000 times a year.

Meanwhile, Le Bernardin's modern French cuisine, with its emphasis on seafood, comes to life in sophisticated recipes, including Striped Bass with Sweet Corn Puree, Grilled Shishito Peppers, Shaved Smoked Bonito, and Mole Sauce, and Pan-Roasted Cod with Chorizo, Snow Peas, Piquillo Peppers, and Soy-Lime Butter Sauce.

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Starred Review: "A behind-the-scenes look at the famed New York restaurant Le Bernardin, this stunning and informative book takes readers into the inner sanctum, where they view firsthand the blend of science and artistry that makes this Michelin three-star eatery legendary. Chef Ripert and New York Times writer Muhlke recount the restaurant's history, from its founding in 1986 by Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze, through Ripert's joining the team in 1991, to the present day. This thorough guide to how the restaurant operates teaches about various kitchen stations, tools of the trade, key personnel and their duties, how new dishes are born and what it's like to spend a night "on the line." Great attention is also paid to the diner's experience, evidenced by the restaurant's "129 Cardinal Sins" (from chipped glassware to servers without a sense of humor). Recipes include ultrarare charred sea scallops with smoked sea salt; pan-roasted monkfish with truffled potato foam and red wine–brandy sauce; and wild Alaskan salmon, morels and spring vegetables in a wild mushroom pot-au-feu. A huge treat for industry insiders, fans of Le Bernardin and foodies everywhere, this book is a must-have for anyone with a passion for food." (Dec.) - Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Eric Ripert is the co-author of the recently published On the Line: Inside the World of Le Bernardin, and chef and part-owner of Le Bernardin, awarded four stars by The New York Times, three stars by the Michelin Guide, and rated best restaurant in New York by Zagat. He is a frequent guest on such national shows as Bravo's Top Chef, Today, Charlie Rose, Martha, and Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. He has opened two new restaurants, 10 Arts in the Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton and Westend Bistro in Washington, D.C. You can watch Eric Ripert in action on his forthcoming television show Avec Eric and on his Web site, www.aveceric.com.


Christine Muhlke is an editor at The New York Times. She has written for Vogue, Vanity Fair, Food & Wine, and other publications.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most intriguing books in my library! March 24 2009
By bachef TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an utterly fascinating book and sooooo worth each and every penny (and more!). I also own "A Day at El Bulli" and "Alinea" but this one describes how a restaurant functions behind the scenes in far greater detail. I just cannot put it down! If you are at all interested in how restaurants work and what is involved this book is for you. It also contains mouthwatering recipes you can make at home.

I own 400+ culinary books and this is one of my top 10 - it exceeded my expectations! Highly, highly recommended.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  55 reviews
56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Confidential Laundry Nov. 23 2008
By korova - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
ATTENTION: if you are a big fan of 30 Minute Meals or Semi-homemade Cooking, this is not a book for you. If you only go to chain restaurants that call each location a "store," this is not a book for you. If you're the sort of person for whom food is akin to fuel and you don't view eating as an aesthetic experience, this is not a book for you.

Who IS this book for, then?

1) Armchair chefs
Fans of inside-the-restaurant-business books, such as Kitchen Confidential (Bourdain) and The Soul of a Chef (Ruhlman), will enjoy reading about the history and personalities behind Le Bernardin. On The Line is written in a very matter of fact style though, so don't expect anything like the gonzo rants of Bourdain or the hushed and reverential tone of Ruhlman.

2) Anybody interested in how a top-end restaurant operates
Most of On The Line is devoted to an in-depth discussion of the daily operations at Le Bernardin. Comprehensive descriptions of each kitchen station, detailed run downs of how dishes are prepared during service, and a fascinating overview of the business side are highlights of the book. And unlike most books written by chefs, the focus is on the entire restaurant staff, not just the chef, which helps reinforce how running a restaurant is truly a team effort.

3) Accomplished or ambitious home cooks
While On The Line includes a selection of recipes, they are aspirational in that they are scaled down renditions of highly refined and luxurious restaurant cooking. As in The French Laundry Cookbook, one needs access to premium ingredients and a solid repertoire of cooking skills to replicate the dishes successfully.

Bottom line: On The Line is a fascinating and realistic look into the world of running a top restaurant, with the bonus of recipes for actual dishes served at Le Bernardin. Don't expect any flashy writing or chef worship talk though. Four stars, with the caveat that this isn't a book for beginning cooks or those who don't enjoy eating at destination restaurants.

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Complementary books:
Garlic and Sapphires (Reichl)--the high end restaurant experience from a restaurant reviewer's perspective.
Down and Out in Paris and London (Orwell)--a funny and shocking exposé of what really goes on in hotel and restaurant kitchens, but NOT from the chef's point of view!
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating look behind the scenes at a 4-star restaurant Nov. 23 2008
By Sandy Kay - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Because it is not simply a cookbook, there are two good reasons to buy this book. The first, because half the book contains recipes, is because you want to learn how to make some of Le Bernardin's famous dishes. The second is because you are curious how a top restaurant staff makes and serves its food. For either or both of those reasons, this is a fascinating book.

I got the book for the second reason. I love reality cooking shows like Top Chef and Hells's Kitchen for the look they provide inside the world of a restaurant chef. I always wonder what it would be like to cook at that level. After reading the book, I can see those TV programs barely scratch the surface. The reality of cooking and serving food of top restaurant quality is so much more involved and labor-intensive than I dreamed it would be.

Le Bernardin is a famous restaurant in New York City that has achieved a 4 star rating from the New York Times and a 3 star (out of 3 tops) Michelin rating. Eric Ripert is the chef and part owner. The restaurant opened while I was living in NYC, but I never ate there. From the name I guessed it was a fancy French restaurant and assumed the menu was full of classic French food (whatever that might be). In fact, the menu is almost exclusively fish and seafood and the recipes are inventive and unusual.

Most of the first half of the book is about the restaurant, starting with the history of both the restaurant and chef Ripert. The next part is about the kitchen, starting with an overview of the various cooks' roles, the kitchen layout and stations, and a glossary of "cook speak." Then there are sections on various roles in the kitchen: the chef de cuisine, the executive sous chef, the saucier (who, as the name implies, makes the sauces), the porter, and the pastry chef. There is a section on how they create new dishes and a description of a night on the line. Despite a large staff, all the cooks and chefs work longer and harder than I ever imagined!

The third part is about the dining experience at Le Bernadin. This part is about the service. It takes an army of waiters and captains to deliver food to the diners and make sure they have a 4 star dining experience. The fourth part is about the business aspect of the restaurant.

The fifth part, and the last half of the book, contains almost 50 of Chef Ripert's favorite recipes. These are not for the beginning cook! None of them are completely beyond a cook who is willing to put in the work, but to make the dishes up to Le Bernadin's standard you'd need a source of absolutely fresh and, in some cases, sushi grade fish and other seafood. It also might help to have help in the kitchen.

There are recipes for cold appetizers, warm appetizers, entrees, and desserts. The recipes give fairly detailed instructions on plating the dishes as well as preparing them. The photos of approximately half of these recipes show exactly what they look like when prepared by the Le Bernardin chefs. The food is visually beautiful; some of the dishes look like little works of art. As far as taste, the combination of ingredients (particularly in the sauces) is like no other fish recipes I have seen.

I am particularly impressed by the photography in this book. In addition to the beautiful photographs of the prepared food, the section on the fish has amazing photography that makes the fish look like they are swimming. Simply gorgeous.

I doubt I will try any of the recipes; my cooking skills are not that developed and it is more difficult to get super fresh fish here in the Midwest. But I was completely fascinated by the descriptions of how a restaurant like Le Bernardin works and what cooking in its kitchen is like. I loved reading it from beginning to end!
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An appetizer but not the main course Dec 9 2008
By Jeffrey Phillips - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
On the Line is a difficult book to review, because it is never sure whether it wants to be a behind the scenes tell-all or a picturesque cook book. The book attempts to do both, and succeeds in many ways, but trying to do both it does not succeed at either goal.

The behind the scenes tell-all books about restaurant kitchens became really interesting when Anthony Bourdain wrote Kitchen Confidential, which he has successfully translated into a TV show and celebrity status. While on the line does not delve into the personal lives of the cooks and staff at the restaurant, we do see a lot of the behind the scenes work that is required to run a restaurant. From this perspective I would have enjoyed learning more about the economics of the restaurant business - how to create great food and still make money, how to ensure that people are aware of your restaurant and the necessary marketing involved. There wasn't as much discussion about these topics as I would have expected.

The book also contains a number of recipes for dishes served at the restaurant, many of which look exceptionally tempting. Some of these appear a bit difficult or include ingredients that might be difficult to acquire unless one lives very near a thriving seafood market. Again, the recipes fall a bit flat, although they are well presented and some of the presentation of the food and the pictures are very appealing.

After all is said and done, the behind the scenes material is interesting but does not dig deeply enough or broadly enough to be satisfying, while the recipes offer a delectable but difficult menu. I think the author would have been better served with a more conventional approach - either a tell-all or a cook book, but has tried mightly to deliver both in one book. What he has given us are two delectable appetizers that ultimately don't satisfy.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top-Notch Recipes, Delicious Food March 19 2009
By Mary Lou Heiss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I recently acquired a copy of this book and found it a tantalizingly unique approach to the genre of 'restaurant cookbook'. Why ? Because it is about the care and tendering of a restaurant -Le Bernadin - which author ( and Executive Chef and co-owner ) Eric Ripert so clearly loves and fusses over like a lover.

It is not, like so many other celebrity chefs books, about the chef or his ego or his prowess or his food 'enlightenment', but refreshingly, about the impeccably demanding and non-stop daily efforts that owners Maguy LeCose and Eric Ripert demand of themselves and their staff in order to keep this high-maintenance restaurant operating at top level.

It is also a behind the scenes look at the hectic yet controlled and precise daily operations of a restaurant of this caliber located in the most hectic of American cities, New York City. As readers, we become privy to information such as the staff hierarchy in the kitchen and dining room, the slang-uage of the kitchen, and to the job of the porter, the person in charge of food deliveries.

In a restaurant world filled with 'good-enough', un-skilled and un-trained cooks and slacking standards ( i.e. the type of dreadful restaurants that Gordon Ramsey wrangles with on his television program Kitchen Nightmares ) it is refreshing to peer into the inner workings of a Eurocentric, Michelin star-rated establishment that constantly polishes its dedication to excellence and the discipline of cooking. Be reassured that here, everything is as it should be.

Here, the rewards and successes of the restaurant come from the hard work and personal values of LeCose and Ripert, and it is apparent from reading this book that they fully understand ( and thrive on ) the yin and yang relationship these concepts have one to another. Underneath the posh glamour of Le Bernadin is an old-school French restaurant, meaning that emphasis is directed towards sourcing the best-quality fresh products no matter the cost, and placing experienced and skilled chefs and sous chefs in the kitchen to assist the on-site Executive Chef/Owner in his desire to please restaurant patrons with beautiful, well-prepared food. ( Note: the word on-site is important here - many celebrity chefs are rightly criticized for their blatant absence from their restaurant kitchens).

This book is significantly different in tone and style from the previous book written by Maguey Le Coze and Eric Ripert titled: Le Bernadin Cookbook: Four-Star Simplicity, (Doubleday, 1998). Where Four-Star features more lavish plating and big gestures, the recipes in On The Line are spare, pared down to precise embellishments used in restrained quantities, which allows the star of the dish - the fish or shellfish - to hold center court.

For the record, let me say here that I have never dined at this restaurant nor do I know either of the two owners. So, with book in hand I made several dishes from this book and was impressed with the results. Each recipe has many parts - sauces, emulsions, flavored broths, garnishes, etc - that comprise the final dish. While the recipes are not difficult, they are a bit fussy and time-comsuming for home cooks who do not have a mis en place of these necessary foundation elements on hand the way that the Le Bernadin kitchen does.

But this is not as much a complaint as it is an observation. For example, I am sure that pureeing the sugar snap peas, green peas, and mint in three separate steps (as is called for in the Sweet Pea-Wasabi Sauce in the Salmon recipe on page 202 ) is a cinch when a reasonable quantity of sauce is made in the restaurant kitchen each night the dish appears on the menu. But for home cooks, the recipe calls for using such small quantities that I had to put all of these ingredients together in my blender just to have enough material in there for my blender to, well, blend.

Which recipes did I choose ?

Crab, inspired by Peruvian Causa: layered crab, avocado, and potaotes spiced with yellow Aji Amarillo pepper sauce

Scallops: ultra-rare charred sea scallops with smoked sea salt ( I used our fantastic Japanese Iburi-Jio smoked sea salt )

Salmon: barely cooked wild Alaskan salmon with daikon, snow peas, enoki salad and sweet-pea wasabi sauce

Banana: banana creme brulee, citrus-pistachio biscuit and beurre noisette ice cream with peanut caramel

All of these recipes were lovely- each dish had layers of flavor and a well-balanced complexity that one imagines is the signature of a Le Bernadin dish. Nevertheless, my favorite was the crab dish, followed by the scallops. The crab was fun to construct and was very jazzy looking ( I wish there had been a picture of the Le Bernadin version in the book ). Several components of the dish - the onion relish, the potatos, and the pepper sauce are tasty mini-recipes that I will certainly put to use in many other dishes.

To see a photo of my finished dish, please visit my blog: An Educated Palate

I served the dish with a nicely chilled, crisp 2007 Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner, a good counterpoint to the unctousness of the crab and avocado and the spicy bite of the aji amarillo pepper.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, engaging, superb book detailing the inner workings of one of New York's finest restaurants Nov. 28 2008
By A. Taylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Eric Ripert is one of the most celebrated chefs in New York City. He's the man at the helm of New York's Le Bernadin, one of the city's most highly regarded restaurants. He hangs with the likes of Anthony Bourdain and his credentials certainly make him more than qualified to write a book about cooking and the restaurant business. This book is a beautiful love letter to the restaurant industry and specifically, Le Bernadin. We get to see how the kitchen is set up, how the tables are stationed, the 129 things that floor staff should never do, and the list goes on. You really get a feel for how this place works and it is quite impressive. In addition to the well written account of all thing Le Bernadin, you also get a nice selection of recipes from the fabled restaurant, though so many are a bit outside the realm of reality for those untrained as Chefs. A stunning, beautifully designed book that should prove interesting both to those in the industry and people that want to know more about it. Though Ripert's writing style isn't nearly as engaging as Anthony Bourdain's, this is definitely a very rewarding read even if it might seem like bit of a PR piece for Le Bernadin. As a huge bonus, the latter half of this book consists of many recipes from Le Bernadin's seafood heavy menu. The items sound fantastic, though sometimes a bit too challenging for the novice to attempt. A great book cover to cover.
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