Fish Farm to Table: Avec Eric with Eric Ripert

by Jason Roth on October 5, 2009

Looks like someone beat Dan Barber to a farm-to-table TV show. To be more specific: “fish farm” to table. I am happy to recommend Avec Eric, starring culinary giant and all-around nice guy, Eric Ripert. Assuming the rest of the series will be on par with the first two episodes, Avec Eric is truly great food TV.

So far, there have been roughly three segments to each show. In the first, Ripert visits the source of the product, where the fish came from, and sees how it is procured and prepared for eating in the local style. The beautiful, high-def photography bring you into the scene immediately, but it’s the non-phoniness and natural curiosity of Ripert that make these segments so interesting. In a scene where an oyster farmer is shucking an oyster, Ripert stops him to ask him why he shucks from right to left rather than, as Ripert points out, the more familiar left to right. The man explains, while the camera close-ups on the knife sliding to the left and twisting, making a clean cut. In the midst of what feels like light entertainment, a technique is conveyed. It’s because Ripert is not a mindless talking head that he’s able to ask such questions. The first segment is also instructive in that Ripert, still with the locals, prepares and eats the ingredient in the traditional way. Essentially, Ripert lets the viewer share in a process of inspiration, which will be built upon in the following segment.

In the second segment, Ripert returns to his own kitchen at Le Bernardin and creates his own upgraded version of the dish. This segment lets you behind the scenes of his restaurant (interesting in itself) and lets you witness a little of the creative process. A highly abbreviated version of the actual process (he admits that the cod in the second episode would take several weeks to perfect before appearing on the menu), as a viewer, you at least get a hint at how a gourmet dish can develop.

Finally, Ripert conducts a cooking demo from (apparently) his home kitchen. (I have no reason to doubt that Chef Ripert can grill directly on his stovetop; quite a cool appliance.) The cooking demo was better integrated in the second episode, in that the dish had a closer relation to the food discussed in the previous segments. But in both cases, I felt the level of instruction was levels above the average cooking show. In quick, subtle ways, Ripert explains a technique. The cooking is also well edited, and the recipes themselves are simple yet look delicious. (PBS offers a discount on a package of his book, On the Line, along all episodes of the TV series on DVD, that might be worth buying.)

Given that many presenters on the Food Network have some sort of expertise, perhaps this show seems so much better because Ripert is not chained to a script, and has the ability to improvise. Oh, and he doesn’t ham it up. There’s no false enthusiasm over the world’s largest deep-fried cheese ball, and I don’t think I heard a single pun or innuendo using the words “hot and spicy”. Just a lot of good photography, food knowledge, and friendly discussions about food, where it comes from, how to cook it, and how a great chef becomes inspired. A half-hour well worth saving to your DVR.

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Jason Roth October 10, 2009 at 10:33 am

More on what I called his “home” kitchen.

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