Sunday, January 31, 2021

Review: 32 Yolks

32 Yolks 32 Yolks by Eric Ripert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was going to skip this chef memoir but then someone in my Around the World group pointed out that he spent a hefty chunk of his childhood and young adult years in Andorra. Books from Andorra translated into English are very hard to come by so this may be as close as I can get.

I know of Eric Ripert of course, first from his friendship with Tony Bourdain and second from Jen-on-Top-Chef who worked for him at Le Bernadin, a restaurant that has consistently been given top awards and reviews, but closed early in the COVID wave and has remained closed since (I hope they are able to reopen someday.) I knew he was a long-practicing Buddhist and that he started around the time he arrived in New York. I knew the same year Tony died, Le Bernadin was awarded the top restaurant in the world! So I realize I know more than I thought, but I didn't know about his childhood. I had the impression that he grew up in the Alps, skiing and eating cheese.

This memoir is only the years up until he leaves for New York, from his idyllic childhood until his father dies. He confronts some challenges with a bullying stepfather and a year in boarding school, but he also has a mother who taught him about quality and perfection (and great food), knew good chefs and farmers as friends, could walk out the door and go hiking (and did), and wore designer clothing because of his mother's boutique. His family connections get him into a school that trains chefs/cooks but also waiters, a much more respected career in France than other places, and also get him a cush job when his military service comes up (where he worked as the officer's waiter after rejecting his cook job due to low quality ingredients.) I feel his privilege should be recognized because although it is indisputable that he has worked incredibly hard and endured incredible challenges, many of the opportunities that feel like "right place right time" really weren't, even if he took advantage of them to their finest. Kudos to him for sticking through the challenges; that is fortitude few of us would have.

All because of this, by his mid-20s he had worked both at La Tour d'Argent AND at almost every station in Joël Robuchon's restaurant, during the time it was given three Michelin stars. The descriptions of the precision and demanding atmosphere of that time are worth the entire book, and honestly I've worked in restaurants and can't fathom what you have to put yourself through to get to that level of speed and accuracy (and keep your sanity.) (Check out this Eater article that shows a few pictures of the perfect dishes, it's the one with the dots that is narrated in detail in the book.)

As for Andorra, it would be impossible to read this book and not understand how important that place is to Chef Ripert's internal strength and integrity, a hearty place full of real people to keep him grounded.

"It would take time for me to see that my mother had given me a gift by bringing me to Andorra. Growing up in a small town, with a mother whose business was central to the city, meant that I was surrounded by characters like Jacques and Madame Amparo. They knew me, and what’s more, they watched out for me, and dreamed for me of a life beyond the mountain range. Ask me now what I own and I can tell you with confidence that among my richest possessions are the memories I have of the people of Andorra, people like Madame Amparo, who made our village not just a place between France and Spain, but also a bridge between the stark reality of my present and the rich possibility of my future."

"...Each task was a lot like hiking in Andorra. There was only one way to go—up. All of those years of climbing mountains had given me an instinct for the ascent, a sense of how to pace myself, how to structure my approach—not through sprints to the top, but slowly and over time."

"In Andorra in the fall, I also helped my mother put up the wild mushrooms that we harvested in our special spots in the mountains around our home."

"You’re going to America and you will never come back to Andorra in the same way.”

View all my reviews

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