Esteemed chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, one of six Michelin three-star restaurants in New York (there are only 14 in America) has an incredibly meditative approach to life and business—appropriate for a practicing Buddhist, but uncommon for a high-powered chef. As a young chef, his hot temper led to heavy staff turnover and what he felt was an imbalance in his daily life. Ripert’s food, his vision, his reputation—those were the things that occupied his thoughts. With time, reflection, and meditation, he has changed the way he works in the kitchen. Today he sees himself as more of a teacher, guiding staff through excellent training with a focus on teamwork.
All of this and more are on display in his gorgeous book, On the Line: Inside the World of Le Bernardin, written with Christine Muhlke. On the Line is a detailed account of a day in the life of Le Bernardin, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the precise operation created by Ripert and his business partner Maguy Le Coze. Part biography, part cookbook, it is made up of five sections: The History, In the Kitchen, The Dining Experience, The Business, and The Recipes. Each part is comprehensive, describing almost every element from the front of house to the basement offices. Readers learn a fairly typical day’s schedule, menus, the staff hierarchy and each person’s duties, the timetable of a dish—from order to service—and numbers, numbers, numbers. There are 500 pounds of black bass served each week, 1,300 glasses washed by hand each day, 14,000 bottles of wine in their cellar, and $12,000 per month spent on flowers. Plus, you can read Le Coze’s 129 Cardinal Sins for her front-of-house staff.
Each January we prepare our company-wide strategic plan for the year. As we approached this year’s agenda, we revisited On the Line for inspiration, helping us narrow our focus and be specific about each goal—whether it’s a new budget, prioritization of needs, revenue increases, cutting costs, or creating new systems.
Though a day in the life at Alabama Chanin may look slightly different from one at Le Bernardin, some of their systems and their focus on attention to detail apply to our own way of doing things. We have a hierarchy of systems that we use to help make decisions, with quality being first. We focus more each year on safety, monitoring each of our machines closely and even offering CPR courses for our staff. We also have timelines and strict standards on how each product is made. Eric Ripert’s kitchen requires all 120 of its employees to be performing as well as possible to ensure excellent service; at Alabama Chanin, we don’t yet have 120 staff members, but each performs essential tasks and must be counted on to produce high-quality products on a consistent basis.
Much like Ripert and Le Coze have done at Le Bernardin, we want our passion for excellence to be contagious in our staff and artisans. No garment or meal in our café is about only the finished product. It is also important to us that our customers feel a connection to the details of our processes from basic design to order delivery. That means a lot of training, meetings, work, and dedication from our staff, across the board. It also means making the extra effort to source the best and most sustainable materials, on a consistent basis. Just as with a precise dish, consistency is essential to our products.
If you are looking for inspiration on creating your own schedules or ways to organize your own life or business, we recommend consulting On the Line and Le Bernardin’s standards for excellence. Their leadership, their systems, their products, and their reputation inspire us. Onward, to an excellent 2017.