How Chefs Ana Roš, Eric Ripert And Tetsuya Wakuda Keep Their Cool
For many passionate home cooks, the kitchen is a meditative place—a sanctuary they can escape to after a trying day at work. So, where do professional chefs run to?
To be sure, the ironies are plenty. While many chefs feed off an innate drive to be better and do better, getting caught up in a pressure cooker setting is not uncommon when your aim is to be the best. And if you don’t have safety valves in the right places, blowing your top can become a frequent occurrence.
Add into the mix today’s highly competitive restaurant scene and the long, hard days eventually morph into one never-ending episode of Hell’s Kitchen. Or do they?
In the lead up to this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants reveal, we ask today’s top chefs to chime in—namely World’s Best Female Chef 2017 Ana Roš of Hiša Franko (currently No. 48 in the world), Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin in New York (No.26 on the World’s Best list) and Tetsuya Wakuda of Waku Ghin at Marina Bay Sands (No.40 on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 list)—who will join the likes of Massimo Bottura of world number one Osteria Francescana to share their thoughts on the importance of respect and practising mindfulness in the kitchen at this year’s #50BestTalks presented by Miele (taking place this Sunday, June 23).
Here’s what they have to say about staying cool as a cucumber and full of beans.
What do the world’s best chefs stress about the most in today’s competitive kitchens?
Ana Roš (AR) I believe our biggest stress is kind of (finding) a compromise between being good to our team, being good to our clients, being good to ourselves, and making it work somehow.
Eric Ripert (ER) Financial stability is probably the most stressful aspect of being a chef in a stand-alone restaurant.
Tetsuya Wakuda (TW) Not getting distracted by a dining scene that is increasingly influenced by Instagrammable moments and the next big trend. While social media has allowed us to get closer to our diners and reach out to new audiences, I worry when the first instinct is to create dishes determined by how pretty the dish looks on Instagram. Taste is core, technique is core, and the rest will follow.
What do tell yourself in encouragement when you’re having a bad day?
AR I’m having a very bad day today. We are just through with last night’s service and it has been horrible because I was changing six courses and it didn’t really work out as I thought it would. This morning, when I woke up, I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “Hey girl, you are a strong girl, you can do it". The day started on that note.
ER I step away from the situation/challenge when appropriate for the amount of time I need to reflect on the problem so I’m able to go back and resolve the issue stronger and more effectively.
TW That tomorrow will be better.
How much do you buy into the saying that you are only as good as the last meal you serve?
ER It’s a fact! Like it or not, it’s a reality—consistency of excellence is how the restaurant industry is rated. A few bad experiences can have a hugely negative effect on your success, especially in this hyper-mediated world.
TW The mark of a good restaurant is consistency. We want our diners to leave with great memories, and look forward to coming back, knowing that they can relive the same experience.
AR Well, I honestly do not believe in this. I think you are as good as the first meal you serve. The first meal is the one which is usually the most full of adrenaline and is the most creative. Later, you have a lot of shortcuts that happen especially when the kitchen team is bigger, that’s when it happens most often.
What’s the hardest thing about serving a room of food experts (because, you know, everyone’s a critic)?
ER I don’t find it that hard as I just make sure that the team and I are giving our best and following the philosophy of the restaurant. During these times there is no stress either in the kitchen or dining room, just incredible focus on giving each of our guests the best experience.
TW While taste is a personal preference, I believe the core of fine dining will never change, and that is the timeless combination of quality food and service. My team and I treat our guests the same, whether they are a food critic, an old friend, or a new customer. When you have fresh, quality produce, you do not need fanciful or excessive cooking methods to bring out its best.
AR I believe that every client is the best judge. Then again, I’m actually wary of people who think they know everything but are very short of knowledge, so maybe I'm not afraid of anyone.
What about maintaining equality in today’s kitchen?
AR If you are talking about gender, I believe that it is amazing to have a good (number) of girls and guys in the kitchen. At Hiša Franko, we have an almost equal number of boys and girls. It is working in an amazing way, like a kind of hormonal balance.
ER The fact that Le Bernardin is in New York, one of the most diverse cities in the world, makes the restaurant rich in diversity. Everyone is treated equally, and everyone is given the opportunity to blossom with their talents.
Do women feel equal in today’s professional kitchen?
AR I do not think that there is equality between the two genders. I don't think equality is really possible because I think a woman working in the kitchen performs and acts in a completely different way. A woman has, very often, other needs and expectations, only some of which are actually from work. We need to multitask and combine so many things in our life, while men can somehow dedicate a lot more time and greater concentration just to their job.
ER Speaking for Le Bernardin, I believe so. We have many women in senior positions at the restaurant across all departments—sous chefs, captains, chef sommeliers, our director of finance, our operations manager, our director of private events, guest relations manager, director of communications and partnerships—all women and, of course, our founder and co-owner Maguy Le Coze who is a beacon for women in the industry.
How important is it to practise mindfulness in the kitchen?
AR I honestly believe that mindfulness in the kitchen is very important. You also need to accept the judgment and opinions of others before you take yours as the absolute one. When you learn how to do this, I think you’ll be a better cook and a better human being.
ER When a kitchen isn’t mindful, it’s a chaotic environment. Mindfulness is a tool that not only creates well-being for the individual but promotes tolerance and helps the kitchen succeed as a team. Mindfulness and good organization allow a team of many cooks to work together in a confined space in harmony and be able to excel.
TW Absolutely important. I think sustainability is always at the top of our minds as chefs. It is about maintaining a natural balance between enjoying the gifts of nature and giving back to the environment.
But how realistically achievable is it?
AR I can (say from experience) that when a chef lowers her expectations of herself and learns how to listen to others, she becomes a better chef. I honestly believe that is the best way to be if you want to get progressively better in the kitchen every day.
ER It’s very achievable! It didn’t happen overnight at Le Bernardin and is a work in progress, but with a conscious effort, it’s easier than you think.
TW It starts from sourcing—looking for responsible suppliers who are committed to ethical production and catching. Many years ago, I started the Petuna Ocean Trout breeding programme in Tasmania to work towards producing ocean trout using ethical methods. Among its many sustainability measures, Petuna produces ocean trout at a low pen density, so that (the fish) have room to move and are therefore healthy and stress-free.
Apart from being conscious in the sourcing of ingredients, tiny steps like making full use of the ingredients in your cooking can be a way to work towards achieving that goal.
#50BestTalks: Kitchen Karma, is a 90-minute stage show and live discussion featuring the world’s best chefs who will share more about their careers and discuss their philosophies regarding respect, mindfulness and happiness. It takes place this Sunday (June 23, 6.30pm) at the Sands Expo & Convention Centre at Marina Bay Sands. Tickets are priced from $100 each, and are available at MarinaBaySands.com/W50B.