New Yorkers have a million excuses to explain why they can’t entertain at home, chief among them tiny kitchens and no time. To disprove these, we challenged Eric Ripert, the fish maestro at Le Bernardin, to create a four-star dinner for eight in three hours, working within the confines of decorator Nadia Ghaleb’s tiny, cluttered, thirties-style kitchen.
Ripert designed a menu with minimal ingredients but maximal results, keeping in mind time and space limitations. Here, the master’s approach.
Plan, plan, plan. A week before the dinner, Ripert worked out his menu. Shrimp was an easy choice for the first course, as it’s widely available. The addition of spicy coconut milk made it more like a winter soup. He decided to use the oven as much as possible to free up the stovetop for work space. A rack of veal, he thought, is an unexpected main course, yet easy to roast since everyone likes it medium. For dessert, he wanted something that could sit without spoiling: Roasted pineapple in a caramel sauce fit the bill.
Anticipate each step. After many years of experience, Ripert can imagine the cooking order in his head. For the novice, he suggests writing a detailed order of work with the cooking times for each dish.
Get the food in advance. FreshDirect delivered an hour before Ripert arrived at 4 p.m. Having the food delivered saves refrigerator and pantry space.
Prepare the ground. Ghaleb’s tiny kitchen was filled with unnecessary equipment, so Ripert cleared away the pans on the stove and the collection of bottles on the chopping block and fridge to create work space.
Edit your pots and pans. “Most people have 1,000 things they don’t need in the kitchen,” said Ripert. Eliminate what is never used, including ingredients more than two years old. The bare minimum: two spoons, two spatulas, one ladle, a full set of knives, one wooden and one plastic cutting board, and two or three saucepans. Le Creuset is his favorite, especially when he’s making a stew.
But don’t skimp on knives. Ripert’s own beloved Japanese MAC knives need to be sharpened on a ceramic rod every day, and on a stone once a week. For non-chefs, Ripert suggests Wüsthof knives. If a full set is too expensive, the three essentials are a paring knife, a chef’s knife, and a flexible slicing knife.
Organize the ingredients. Before he began cooking, Ripert checked to be sure he had everything, to avoid last-minute panics. To save space, he set out the ingredients for each dish, one set at a time.
Clean out the bar. Ripert spotted a nearly empty bottle of his favorite tequila, and emptied it “to make extra space.” “I drink one glass of tequila a day, at room temperature,” he said. “I just sip it. Only good tequila, like Patrón. It makes me happy.”
From zero to four stars in three hours.
4:15 Ripert puts the chicken stock over medium heat to reduce by two-thirds.
4:30 The cleaned shrimp are stored in the tray in which they arrived; it fits easily in the fridge.
4:40 Ripert adds the peeled, chopped celeriac to boiling water, along with lemon juice and cream. The mushrooms are cleaned and cut before the smellier vegetables, such as onion and garlic, to avoid cleaning the cutting board repeatedly.
5:15 A saucepan of very salty water (salt helps preserve the vegetables) is brought to a boil and used to blanch the tomatoes first, then the bok choy.
5:26 The vegetables for the shrimp sauce are sliced and sautéed, the stock is added and simmered for fifteen minutes, then the coconut milk is added.
5:35 The wine is brought to a boil, flamed to burn off the alcohol, and reduced by half.
5:40 Ripert starts the mushroom sauce, flaming and deglazing it with brandy before adding the reduced wine.
6:05 The shrimp are seasoned with white pepper, painted with melted butter, and returned to the fridge.
6:10 The veal is seasoned before being seared in a large roasting pan on top of the stove.
6:15 The veal goes into the preheated oven.
6:55 The plates are set in the oven to warm. It’s important to Ripert that they still be hot when they reach the table.
7:00 Guests arrive. The veal is resting; the mushroom sauces, celeriac purée, and bok choy are warming. The shrimp needs four minutes to roast. The pineapple finishes in the oven as guests eat the main course.