Inspire Confidence in Others with Compassion: A Life Lesson from the Kitchen
Being bullied by his stepfather taught world-renowned chef Eric Ripert a lot about keeping your composure.
Eric Ripert is the chef and co-owner of the New York restaurant Le Bernardin, which holds three stars from the Michelin Guide and has maintained a four-star rating from The New York Times for more than two decades. He is vice chairman of the board of City Harvest, a New York-based food rescue organization, as well as a recipient of the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor. He serves as a regular guest judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and is the host of his own TV series, Avec Eric, which has won Emmy and James Beard awards. Ripert is the author of several cookbooks, his latest is 32 Yolks: From My Mother's Table to Working the Line.
Eric Ripert: When you are in a position of leadership in a kitchen or even if you are not being patient it’s something that is very important.
If you are a beginner in the kitchen and you have to learn craftsmanship you have to be patient, because you’re not born with knife skills. You’re not born knowing how to roast a chicken or cook carrots. It’s something that you want to learn, and it’s going to be very repetitive, and you cannot get frustrated. You have to be very patient.
If you are in a position of leadership in a kitchen you have to be very patient as well, because you are basically teaching the team to accomplish your vision. And if you are not patient they are going to be potentially scared of you and therefore someone who’s shaking like that will not be doing a better job than someone who’s confident.
Then maybe if you may create frustration in them you may create many negative thoughts in your team. So patience in the kitchen it’s something that is very important of course.
When I was young my mother remarried and my stepfather Hugo – in the book his name is Hugo because his real name is something else. But Hugo is very mean to me as a young kid and he bullies me when my mother is not around. The way he does it it’s obviously very vicious and when I come back home from my day in school he’s testing me and he’s trying to make me angry and to make me fight with him. And, of course, he’s an adult and he’s much stronger than I am. And then I was trying to keep my cool and I was trying to not ignore him but to rationalize a little bit. Maybe he was jealous. Maybe something was wrong. And suddenly I would explode and I would scream at him or I would break things that he likes or we would fight. And as soon as I would do that I was the loser and he was the winner because that’s what he wanted. He wanted to basically destabilize the young kid that I was.
Many times I had the pleasure to win the fights but fighting is already losing so what I learned about responding to people who try to bully is that soon as you respond they got you. They got what they wanted. You’re the bad person.
I believe that violence will attract violence and a compassionate approach will have more chances to get in return some compassionate answer.
And if you are talking about world leaders—although I believe the world is very complicated and it’s not my expertise, I’m a chef—But I think that using wisdom will definitely be much better than enticing violence.
By responding with armies and worse to terrorist attacks creates a system of no end in violence. So I am a strong believer of nonviolence, and I think it’s good that I am in a kitchen and not at the White House.
Ever dealt with a bully? Chef Eric Ripert grew up with one. And it was these formative fights that shaped his worldview: that engaging in a fight already means you are losing. Eric's chosen profession as a chef often means working in cramped, hot conditions and it's no secret that working in a kitchen can bring out some flared tempers. But Ripert negates that by understanding that "a compassionate approach will have more chances to get in return some compassionate answer."
And while total pacifism might not work in every walk of life, keeping your cool and being calm and composed is an intensely useful life skill that we can all use.
Eric Ripert's latest book is called 32 Yolks: From My Mother's Table to Working the Line.
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