Eric Ripert

Eric Ripert provides a little more insight into Justo Thomas' role at Le Bernardin.

on Jan 20, 2011

I am Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin commenting on Episode 7 of Top Chef in New York, actually at Le Bernadin with Tony Bourdain and our fish butcher, Justo.

So Justo is a legend in Le Bernardin, and is very well-known also in the industry since Tony wrote in his book, Medium Raw, an entire chapter dedicated to the work and the passion of Justo, and the expertise of Justo in filleting fish and being an amazing butcher. And what happened is that, he's very very focused on what he does, to the point that he sharpens the knife a certain way not to be too sharp, because they will grasp too much the bone and you will lose a couple of seconds there (so it's not too sharp, but it's sharp enough to work very fast and to be able to filet the fish in the way you want). He has very little tricks here and there that makes him a great butcher. And like we say in the episode, when he's on vacation we struggle to replace him with three people. Justo comes at 6 am, 7 am, by lunchtime he's thinking about going home. When he's in vacation, we have three senior people from Le Bernardin struggling until 9 or 10 pm, and the fish is not even as nice as Justo does. So I think it was a very good idea to bring everybody to Le Bernardin and have Justo demonstrating what he does because it's definitely an art at that level.

And it was an interesting Quickfire.

Some of the contestants didn't even finish filleting the fish. They had a very hard time doing it. Filleting fish is a basic. And everybody in a kitchen should know how to fillet fish. Especially when you have a fish restaurant, because it's embarrassing not to be able to do it when you own a restaurant that serves fish.

So it's a tricky Quickfire because the ones who did very poorly, actually are safe. I mean safe, they are not busy doing anything. And the ones who are the best, they can't use the beautiful fillets that they have. They have to use the head, the tail, the bones, the collar of the cut fish, the cheeks, and they have to do beautiful dish that Justo and Tony are testing later on. And it looks like they are very inspired and creative in using those parts. The Japanese actually are very very also good at using the collar, and the cheeks, and parts that us in the Western world are not necessarily using. They are very delicate at times, very rich because of fat content on the belly for instance. Sometimes they are a little bit gelatinous, but as soon as you have gelatin you have flavors that catch into it. So [the chefs] come up with some very great winning dishes. It looks like they're very very close to each other. Those four dishes look very good on camera and when they describe the ingredients and the technique and everything else, I would love to taste those dishes, and I'm sure I would enjoy them.

Anyway at the end of the day, the winner is Dale.