My Wishlist: A Culinary Icon And The Watches He Covets Most

My Wishlist: A Culinary Icon And The Watches He Covets Most

It’s no secret. Eric Ripert, the perennial three Michelin star holder and co-owner of New York seafood temple Le Bernardin, has been a watch guy for quite some time.

Ripert started fairly young, when his mother gave him a Cartier Santos Ronde upon his graduation from culinary school at the  age of 17. He still has that round Santos in his collection, and he has since added several watches from other brands, including Rolex.

Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin.

But it’s through the people of Vacheron Constantin, a brand that Ripert has long been a client of, that an interest in, and appreciation for, horology really grew. Visiting Switzerland and meeting watchmakers from Vacheron and other brands offered a window into a world of skilled craftspeople whose dedication resonated with Ripert. Though he reveres Vacheron, Ripert’s interest in timepieces isn’t bound to just one marque. He loves watches of many types – sporty and dressy, complicated and simple, from a range of makers.

Twenty-twenty was a difficult year for people the world over, in all kinds of businesses. And the hospitality industry was hit especially hard. Le Bernardin closed twice due to COVID. First, prior to New York’s lockdown, when things were looking bad but before mandated closures, and again in December. Ripert describes it as a painful experience.

Last year, Ripert’s team worked with City Harvest, in partnership with World Central Kitchen, to make and distribute meals for those in need. This year, they plan to donate $ 5 to City Harvest for every diner Le Bernardin hosts, with a goal of giving $ 200,000.

With a restaurant he never thought would close re-opening this Wednesday, the 56-year-old master of culinary arts shared the five watches he doesn’t own but can’t stop thinking about. “Right now I’m coming out of the crisis of COVID … let me dream, okay!”

Eric Ripert’s Wishlist

Vacheron Constantin Tour de l’Ile:

I went to Switzerland, and I went to the Vallée de Joux, where watches are made. I visited a couple of places, but I ended up at the Vacheron Constantin factory there. They have the factory in Geneva, but they also have basically like a lab in the Vallée de Joux, where they create prototypes and special watches and so on. They were the ones who took the time to teach me about these kinds of watches, collectible watches. On my wrist right now I have the American 1921, the limited series they did when they opened their boutique on Madison Avenue in New York. I wanted to have 007 – they said no; I have 07/64. I love it. I have a Patrimony limited series made entirely of Platinum. I have the Overseas, which I wear a lot

Vacheron Constantin Tour de l’Ile.

When I went to the Vallee de Joux, this watch was being fabricated, being finished. You were not allowed to enter the room where they were finishing the watch. But I was allowed, outside the building, to speak to the man who mainly worked on that watch. It was very interesting. It’s a very unique watch. I think it is pretty amazing what they have done with that watch. First of all, you have the tourbillon, and then the perpetual calendar, astronomic functions. It’s crazy, this watch. And it’s a gorgeous piece as well.

I have great admiration for mastering craftsmanship, and I admire the artistry that goes with the craftsmanship. The guys who create these types of watches are the best artisans in the world, and also they have a creative vision. To me, that is what’s interesting. You can calculate time, which is very subjective and elastic. You can calculate it in many different ways. Those guys figure out different ways to calculate time the way we see it. They are so obsessed with their art that they make sure that every tiny piece in their watches has been sculpted and decorated. When you look at it with a magnifying glass, you can see the sculpture on the metal. But it’s not showy. It’s not something that people can see.

Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Grande Complication:

Audemars Piguet is in the Vallée de Joux. It’s one of those old, old companies. I think it was founded in the 19th century. This one is very unique because of the complications. The craftsmanship is very unique to Audemars Piguet. Every piece is made in-house. The manufactures make an impression on you. First of all, it’s a privilege to be invited. And the watchmakers, they don’t talk much. What is interesting is that they spend their lives in that tiny universe, and when they have a visitor, suddenly you take them out of that universe, and they look like they are lost in our world.

Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Grnnde Complication

As chefs, we play with flavors, we play with textures, we play with many things, and our art disappears very quickly. It’s very different with a watch, which is basically a living sculpture that gives you time. We create something that might take hours, days, and is disintegrated in a few seconds. What we do in kitchens is very impermanent in a sense, and what they do is definitely the opposite. However, we have, I think, the same high regard for craftsmanship and artistry. And time is essential in my world.

Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Squelette Ref. 5395:

Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Squelette.

I like this watch because of the complications and the work that goes into it, the challenge of the thinness of the watch. I like the brand as well. I like the achievements that Breguet has made over the years with their know-how. I find this watch very interesting because you can see almost everything that is in the watch. If you take, for instance, the Audemars Piguet, you see the complications, but you don’t see the mechanism as well. The Breguet Classique is just “wow.” It’s a big reminder of the process that goes into making a watch at this level.

Vintage Rolex Daytona With Black Dial:

I also like sports watches. Rolex is an iconic brand. It’s definitely not Audemars Piguet, or Breguet, or Vacheron, or Patek Philippe. But it is a very special brand. I’m in love with the Daytona, especially the vintage ones.

Rolex Daytona Ref. 6240 with Paul Newman dial. (Image courtesy Phillips).

I have a friend, a collector, who has one. It’s a Paul Newman Daytona – I think it’s worth about $ 800,000 or something like that today. Each time I see my friend, I cannot help it. I ask if I can borrow it for a few minutes. I think it’s an incredibly special design, especially for that time. I don’t want to say it’s pop culture, because it is not pop culture. But it’s a very iconic watch for our times. It’s very seductive to me, and it’s a watch that I don’t have. I have a Daytona, but I don’t have a vintage one, and I don’t have a black dial – I have the white dial. It’s a watch I’d just love to have. Between the Tour de l’Ile and this watch, there is a huge contrast. But it’s still a special watch. It became an iconic watch. And I like it. I change my watches all the time. Daytona is a very special event, too. It’s very mystical. This watch brings a lot of things together: sports, the cars, the culture of racing. It’s sexy.

Patek Philippe Nautilus 5712R:

Patek is probably the most revered watch brand in the world. It’s all a matter of perception, and it’s subjective, but you have Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Vacheron, and Patek Philippe. And very often, Patek Philippe is considered the brand. They do not outsource anything. It’s a brand again that dates from the 19th century. Every Patek model became iconic.

Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5712R.

The Nautilus dates to ’76. It’s a very sporty watch – very elegant, but at the same time, very modern as well. Ahead of its time, maybe. But very simple. What’s interesting about Patek Philippe is that if you don’t appreciate what goes into the details of Patek Philippe watches, it could be perceived as bland. Some people look at those watches, and they don’t understand what it represents. Their style is not flashy; it’s the opposite. I like the fact that this watch, out of all the ones here, is probably the most subtle. What I try to do is build dishes that are extremely complex. However, when people taste them, they don’t know the difficulties we had to create certain textures or flavors. And in appearance, the dish looks very simple all the time. This is the style we have created. It would be pretentious to say that we are close to Patek Philippe in cooking, but in many ways, I can identify with the brand. We work so much in creating dishes, and they might become signatures or not. Sometimes, people come here and they expect fireworks or pyrotechnics and so on, but this is not what Le Bernardin is about. It’s a certain subtlety about the entire experience, but especially about the dishes we create. I think this is why I relate to Patek Philippe, especially to the Nautilus.

To master a sauce requires a lot of knowledge. There is a lot of craftsmanship involved. But at the end – and this is a connection between watchmakers and the cooks making a sauce – that time is not touchable; it is invisible. Flavors are not tangible; they are invisible as well. It’s all in our minds. When we are good cooks, we are able to create flavors that are like notes of music or like seconds that pass by. It exists, but you cannot see it, you cannot touch it, you cannot grab it. It’s impossible.

HODINKEE

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