Yesterday evening Eric Ripert and Christina Tosi took part in a discussion moderated by Bon Appétit executive editor Christine Muhlke. The conversation, entitled "Sweet, Sour, Savory," was really about food memories, developing your own style, and channeling emotions into your cooking. Throughout the course of the hour long event, it became clear that even though Tosi and Ripert draw from strikingly different experiences — she, a self-proclaimed junk-food-eating American and he, a Mediterranean whose mother recreated Bocuse recipes daily — they have similar goals and concerns. Foremost among them: making personal food.
Here are fifteen of the best excerpts:
Tosi on first flavor memories: "It sounds very corny, but cookie dough. That was my grandmother's most popular baked good. She'd do lots of things with butter in them. I'd eat the dough raw."
Ripert on first flavor memories: "For me, it was the apple tart of my grandmother. She was making a 12-inch apple tart every day, and I was eating a 12-inch apple tart every day."
Tosi on favorite flavors: "I love Whatchamacallits. I'm a little bit better now, but I basically only ate junk food as a kid. A home-cooked meal was a can of Spaghetti-O's, since my parents worked all the time. I think I benefited from that, because it was magical when I started opening myself up to new flavors."
Ripert on original aspirations: "I thought I'd become a pastry chef. I'm very ADD in a sense, so I always like to improvise. You can't do that in pastry."
Muhlke on Ripert's original aspirations: "Didn't you also get booted from the pastry station at La Tour d'Argent for eating all of your mise en place?" [Ripert confirmed this to be the case.]
Ripert on his mother's cooking: "My mom would cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner at home. She was very inspired by the Nouvelle Cuisine, so she would make very elaborate recipes for lunch and dinner, with a white tablecloth and very fine china. Every day, I would eat appetizer, main course, cheese, and dessert."
Tosi on emotion: "I think the reason you tap into emotions and memories and the flavors you associate with times in your life when you are cooking is because they strike a chord with people. The things that you really remember can be through the perfect play on flavor and texture, but for me, it's more through the gettability of it. When I worked at Ko, I worked to make my dishes be the most memorable."
Tosi on lowbrow: "I thought I'd never become the pastry chef at a fine restaurant, because my style and personality and nuances were too casual or lowbrow. I didn't want to do anything if it wasn't me."
Ripert on the croque monsieur at Le Bernardin: "Influences from childhood memories are very important in my cooking... My grandmother used to have a croque monsieur maker that would make the sandwiches in a shape of a heart or clover. When she passed away, I wanted to pay homage to her. Le Bernardin is a seafood restaurant, so no ham or cheese. But I remember the bread and the butter. And then I started thinking of caviar and salmon, and the Le Bernardin croque monsieur happened... The backbone of my cooking is what I ate and smelled as a young kid."
Tosi on how she develops flavor: "I like to draw mostly from the staple pantry ingredients to make something from nothing. Then I'll introduce a new ingredient. Like for instance, we are doing a blueberry miso soft serve now."
Tosi on oats: "You can take oats incredibly far. We're experimenting with a cookie that's 100 % oats, with no flour in it. Right now, we're working on grinding it down into a flour to figure out where we can substitute it — what can I do with it in a cookie, in pie, in milk? You can toast oats and all of a sudden they have a new depth of flavor. You can make yogurt out of the toasted oak milk, and it's sort of like eating granola and yogurt in one. It's about challenging yourself to explore the ingredients you have."
Ripert on umami: "I'm obsessed with it. It's a flavor or sensation that creates a "wow" effect in your mind that you can't really explain. It's more of a state of mind that is created by a combination of ingredients. It's magical, like black truffle. It's a combination that can be very vibrant and fresh, and in the end, has a connection to the earth."
Ripert on the current approach at Le Bernardin: "Until last year, our approach was that the fish was the star of the plate. Now, it's about creating pure harmony. The idea is to have the fish be the star, but at the same time, the fish complementing the sauce and the garnish. It's very ambitious."
Tosi on her cornbread experience at wd-50: "I made fifteen types of cornbread ice cream. When we did a blind taste test, the one that ended up being the best was the Jiffy Brand one. We wondered if we'd be cheating to use it."
Tosi on the Doritos Locos taco: "I have had it. I had three crave cases of them."
Ripert on influences: "I just came back from Peru, so I have to restrain myself from becoming a Peruvian restaurant. When I went to Italy, the restaurant was Italian for six months. When I went to Japan, the restaurant was Japanese for six month. As you get older, you can balance them. I don't keep a notebook of flavors. I keep a notebook of ideas. The flavors are in your mind. It's all in my mind."