Sarah Thomas On Working With Eric Ripert - Exclusive

Few of us are lucky enough to get to work for someone we admire. However, working at a Michelin-starred restaurant can be a dream come true in the restaurant world. For Sarah Thomas, getting to work at the three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin under Chef Eric Ripert was an exciting time. "He's someone I looked up to for years before working there," Thomas said in an exclusive interview with Mashed.

Eric Ripert has made a name for himself as one of the top chefs in the world and has received James Beard awards and notoriety around the globe. After attending culinary school as a teen, Ripert worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant during his early career, and by age 29, he had earned a four-star rating from the New York Times — the highest rating they offer. Years later, Le Bernardin received this distinction again. Ripert is one of this era's best chefs, but with such high standards, we have to wonder what it's like to work with him. Sarah Thomas dished about it in our interview.

He is 'a good person,' but the work was difficult

Possibly due to the popular media portrayal of head chefs like Gordon Ramsay, one might think that chefs of renowned restaurants must be harsh and sometimes callous to get the quality they're looking for. But according to Sarah Thomas, this isn't the case with Eric Ripert. "Eric Ripert is genuinely, incredibly kind. That restaurant has been around for more than 30 years, and there's a reason for it. That great leadership starts at the top, and he sets a very positive example for all of his employees."

That doesn't mean the work itself was any easier, though: "He has very exacting standards, but you want to fulfill them because you don't want to let him down, because he's a good person." As the adage says, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and it seems Ripert knows this well.

But while he helped his staff achieve their best and made his restaurant a rewarding place to work, it took its toll. Meeting those high standards consistently was difficult. "The work is hard, and we have a high standard to maintain," said Thomas. "When you're there, you're there 100%. It's physically tolling. It's mentally exhausting."

A multi-Michelin restaurant's high-pressure, fast-paced environment isn't for everybody, but Thomas doesn't regret it one bit. "It's a great experience and you can take a lot away from it if you want to. And I did." Ripert's excellent leadership stood out to her as making all the difference.

Ripert was more supportive than others

Something that came as a shock to Sarah Thomas was just how supportive Eric Ripert was of her ventures outside of Le Bernardin. "When we were starting [my book] 'Kalamata's Kitchen' ... I'd always give him the first copy. And he was like, 'This is great, but when do I get to be in a book?'" 

Thomas was caught off guard in the best way possible since that level of support wasn't common in the high-end restaurant industry. "It was ... really atypical for a restaurant leader at that time, and a restaurant of that caliber, to be like, 'I fully support your mission that you're trying to fulfill outside of your time here.'"

It didn't occur to Thomas that Ripert would want to be involved, and she was worried that bringing it up could cause him to think she "wasn't 100% when I was there." But Thomas said Ripert and Le Bernardin went out of their way to accommodate both her writing and her day job. "I'm super grateful for that. It speaks to the kind of leader and kind of person he is, and how devoted he is to missions that make the world happier and slightly better."

"Kalamata's Kitchen: Taste Buds in Harmony" will be released on June 28, 2022.