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Star Chef Ripert Now Has Own PBS Gig

From Greg Morago of The Houston Chronicle: It's a face easily remembered. The superstar chef's handsome mug has popped up as a guest judge on Top Chef. It has lit up shows hosted by Martha Stewart, David Letterman and Ellen DeGeneres. It has graced the glossy pages of numerous cooking magazines. It's a familiar visage to in-the-know foodies.

But Eric Ripert, whose Le Bernardin is recognized as one of the world's great seafood restaurants, has been the rare top toque without his own television show. Until now.

Starting Saturday, Ripert's Avec Eric, a lifestyle, travel and cooking show can be seen nationally on PBS stations. Avec Eric marks a new chapter for the classically-trained French chef who up until now has resisted jumping into the food television fricassee, partly in favor of minding the store at his seafood temple (he's kept Le Bernardin's four-star rating from the New York Times longer than any other chef now cooking in New York).

We were able to chat avec Ripert about his show, which, surprisingly, isn't about seafood but embraces Ripert's own love for culinary travel.

Q: Why did you wait so long to get into food television?

A: We couldn't find a network that would do the food I wanted to do. Food Network has a different audience and different views than the PBS audience. It took us a lot of time but we finally we found the right producer, the right partners and PBS picked up the show. It's a format I like very much. I can cook in a kitchen the way I like to cook.

Q: And cooking not just fish and seafood?

A: Although I'm associated with fish, I know how to cook everything. I like cooking meat. I'm very good with it.

Q: As a young chef, you went from La Tour d'Argent to Joël Robuchon then to Jean-Louis Palladin then to David Bouley. That's quite a start before you went to Le Bernardin. I think it would be fair to say you've only worked with the best chefs.

A: For sure. When you work with those chefs who are amazing, you learn high standards, and it becomes a part of you.

Q: Do you think about four stars and maintaining them? Is it on your mind?

A: No, if you do that, you die. You die of a heart attack. I don't think like that. I wake up in the morning and I drink my coffee like everyone else. I walk for 45 minutes in Central Park and then I go to work. I never think about the pictures of me in the magazine. My focus is on the aspects of the cuisine and running a restaurant. My priority has always been to focus on what is my job, which is to be a chef.

Q: You are known for fish and seafood, and it's great that Americans are eating more seafood. But not all of us are good with fish. What are we doing wrong?

A: The problem in lot of the regions of the country is that people buy cheap stuff, not fresh. Fish should never smell like fish. The shopping part is very important. We buy fish that's old, and we have a tendency to kill the smell by overcooking.

Q: But we're also in a recession, and seafood is expensive.

A: If you're on a budget you can cut a protein. Have a smaller portion of good-quality protein, and eat more vegetables and more starch. In Europe, it's the way people eat. They never eat huge steaks. Everything is much smaller there. You don't really need to eat so much protein.

Q: What was the most difficult part of doing your first show?

A: To read a script. I cannot have a script. I lose my concentration. I am not good at repeating lines.

Q: The promo for Avec Eric says your show is not about what to cook but why. What do you mean?

A: If we believe that cooking is artistry, you have to be inspired by something. Obviously what inspires us is interaction with people when I travel. Growers, farmers, winemakers. The show is an extension of my lifestyle. The show is a very natural process to me. We're filming what I do usually in my normal life. That translates to an inspiration to cook something that is meaningful to me and my guest.

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