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December 16, 2008 3:51 PM

Those lips. Those eyes. That hat. Cracking crab with Eric Ripert and my "favorite Frenchman"

Posted by Nancy Leson

"Nancy!" said Thierry Rautureau, pronouncing my name the correct way: like the city in France. "Thees ees your favorite Frenchman!" Thierry was calling to invite himself to lunch -- with me and his buddy, New York chef Eric Ripert. Ripert, known for his lustrous head of hair, Angelina Jolie lips and sea green eyes (he'd play himself in the movie) was in town this week promoting his latest book: "On the Line: Inside the World of Le Bernardin." We were scheduled for lunch, and Rover's chef wanted in. How could I say "Non!"? After all, Thierry is my favorite French chef. I've even got his "Pinup Boy" shot right here next to my desk at the office:


That being said, after having lunch with New York's four-star seafood-selling phenomenon at Sea Garden, Monsieur Chapeau's got some competition. What were we doing at Sea Garden? What do you think we were doing?



When I arrived, my two favorite Frenchmen were gossiping, in French, bien sur (I understood nothing, no thanks to three years of high school French). I begged them to continue, which they did. Then we had lunch and chatted some more -- in English -- over hot and sour soup (Ripert's favorite), crab with black bean sauce (we goodnaturedly fought over the luscious tomalley hiding under the crab's carapace), salt-and-pepper squid, honey-walnut prawns and garlicky sauteed pea vines:



We talked about the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush ("I must say, I was impressed," noted Ripert); about Thierry's first visit to a Chinese restaurant ("I said, `Do you have any baguette?'"); and the fact that business is still good at Le Bernardin, though both gents agreed: "You know business is bad when the customers start cutting back on taking out their mistresses." We talked about the quality of fine foodstuffs -- from seafood to produce -- available to us here in Seattle (astonishing, we agreed), and Ripert said he was pleased with the turnout the night before at his Cooks & Books event at Union, where he did double-duty on schmooze-patrol (the event sold-out two seatings).

As for the book he was flogging, it's only been available since Thanksgiving and it's selling so well his publisher just ordered a second printing. Nice. By the way: "On the Line" is the perfect gift for that maniacal restaurant fiend on your list -- or for anybody who might be looking for some insight into what makes a four-star restaurant a four-star restaurant. I'm halfway through it and couldn't be more impressed with what Ripert, his staff and his co-author, Christine Mulhke, had to say.

With an appointment for another schmoozefest and book-signing at Microsoft on his busy agenda (he flew home to his wife, son and restaurant this morning), we shared some laughs over our fortune cookies. Ripert's fortune: "Believe in your abilities; confidence will lead you on" -- ("in bed!"). Then the Frenchmen pooh-poohed my offer to buy, and fought over the check:



The local guy won. Hat's off to him!


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Food for Thought | Nancy Leson on KPLU

Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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