After Martha grilled him on camera as they made red snapper in a salt crust, we sat down with Eric and asked him a few more important questions -- and we told him how much we enjoyed his memoir, 32 Yolks.
You just cooked with Martha as your sous chef. Among her many talents and interests, what stands out to you about Martha?
Martha loves precision and she is extremely, extremely precise. Sometimes it makes you smile, but ultimately she is right. When you are a chef; you cut, you clean, you do something else, you clean. She has the mentality of a chef that she applies in cooking and all her endeavours. In everything she is very precise and that is one reason why she is successful.
In your memoir "32 Yolks," you write about your passion not just for food but for the bigger meaning around food and cooking. Do you still feel that bringing people together is an important part of cooking and running a restaurant?
The experience of cooking and eating together, yes, for sure it connects us. At the restaurant it is different than eating at home but people have the opportunity to be together, to share a meal, have the time to talk, to talk about serious subjects, to laugh. Especially in the big cities, it’s a must that keeps us sane. It’s very rewarding if you are creating that experience and also very rewarding to be a part of that experience -- and it’s why people go to restaurants so much today.
How has what Americans eat in top restaurants, in chain restaurants, and what they eat at home changed since you came to the U.S. in 1989?
Back then you didn’t find fresh herbs that easily and forget about organic. Nobody cared about sustainability. Today we are seeing an awakening; we see a lot, a lot of young people and also their parents caring about the source of their food, and the quality, and of the ingredients. And of course we also see more and more people entertaining at home and going out to eat. I think access to good food has grown tremendously. For instance, today fresh herbs are very common.
And how has your cooking at Le Bernadin evolved over that time, what would a diner at the restaurant 1989 who was transported to the dining room in 2016 see that was different on their plate?
When I came here I was very inspired by my roots, the Mediterranean flavors of Italy, Spain, and France, and also by my mentors in Paris. Living in the U.S. and being able to travel has exposed me to different cultures, and techniques, and ingredients and I have been including them in my cooking.
Today Le Bernadin is a seafood restaurant that has influences from all over the world. The inspiration comes from my surroundings which are NYC and very diverse. When Le Bernadin first opened it was described as a French restaurant. Today I would say it is has French roots but is a NYC landmark. In our kitchen between the staff and the ingredients it’s like the U.N.!
How often do you cook at home? What do you cook when you eat at home?
I cook on Sunday because the rest of the week I am at Le Bernadin. Saturday I go out and then Sunday is cooking day. What I cook at home is inspired by the seasons, by where I am, and what is best available. I cook like a jazz musician -- I improvise. I make dinner and also cook extra food for the family for Monday, for Tuesday. And every Sunday we enjoy the meal together.
Watch Eric cook with Martha for the first time, on her TV show back in the '90s: