Eric Ripert and Eric Kayser © Nigel Parry
This spring, New York City’s legendary seafood restaurant Le Bernardin stopped baking its own bread and began outsourcing the task to another legend, Maison Kayser, a famed Parisian bakery that opened its first American outpost on the Upper East Side last summer. “I thought the bread we had at Le Bernardin was fine but not at the level of the quality of the food,” explains Le Bernardin’s chef and co-owner Eric Ripert. Maison Kayser bakes and delivers 10 kinds of (still warm) bread to the restaurant three times a day. Among the offerings Ripert orders are mini and full-size baguettes, focaccia, and unusual offerings like rye-lemon loaves, basil-sesame rolls and turmeric-fennel rolls. “When I eat Maison Kayer’s bread it’s so good, it’s pleasure,” Ripert says. “Every roll has been made by hand. The quality of the flour that they use and the technology that they use to create their bread is very unique. Eric Kayser has invented what we call levain liquid: liquid sourdough starter.” Customers agree with the master French chef. “Since we’ve had the bread from Kayser, clients eat bread three times more than before,” Ripert says. “It’s great, but it’s expensive.” Here, Ripert chats with F&W about the evolution of bread in restaurants, the bread at Le Bernardin and his biggest butter pet peeve.
How have bread programs evolved in fine-dining restaurants?
In the past 30 years we have seen more and more restaurants having a bread program. In the 1980s, at fine-dining restaurants in Paris you had one type of bread. And when I started at Le Bernardin in 1991 there was one bread as well. Then suddenly we paid more attention to it. I think actually in America, we were leaders in demanding different kinds of breads.
Why do you think the idea of having a variety of breads on offer took off in America before Europe?
In France they have had great bread for a long time, but the French are very simple in their demands. They have a good baguette or a good country bread. But here, I think people didn’t have a tradition of a good baguette on their table, therefore they were more curious and more like, “Why not? Let’s do it! Let’s be more creative with it.”
You offer 10 kinds of bread at Le Bernardin, how do people make sure they don’t choose the wrong bread for their meal?
We want to make sure that the bread is not going to be in conflict with dishes that we serve. It’s the role of the captains to say, “With your striped bass I don’t recommend the raisin walnut, I think you should have that with your cheese.” We have to guide people. We have a turmeric-fennel bread, which is almost like a brioche, and that bread can go very well with a few dishes and wouldn’t go well with some other dishes.
What five breads should every quality breadbasket include?
A mini baguette. Something with a brioche texture. A seven-grain. A raisin-walnut for cheese. A country style or buckwheat—I love buckwheat.
What do you serve with the bread?
Butter. It’s very important. Twenty years ago nobody cared about the quality; now we care. We found some upstate New York farmers that do butter that is better than the one we were making in-house, so now we buy from them. What is very important is to have the butter at the right temperature. I hate when you have to take the knife and break the butter.