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Chef Eric Ripert on the restaurant industry recovery: ‘The challenge is the inflation’

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Le Bernardin Chef & Co-Owner Eric Ripert joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the restaurant industry recovery amid inflation and supply chain challenges.

Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- Welcome back to Yahoo Finance. Well, culinary accolades are never in short supply for a gourmet restaurant Le Bernardin in New York City, consistently ranking as the number one restaurant in the country. But the last year and a half has not been without challenges. Here to discuss Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin chef and co-owner. Sir, I feel like I should call you maestro. First of all, congratulations on just being ranked the best restaurant in the US and second best in the world by the prestigious La Liste ranking of the best 1,000 restaurants globally, fourth year ranked number one in the US. How do you maintain that level of excellence, particularly in the current environment when the hospitality industry has been so challenged by COVID over the last 20 months?

ERIC RIPERT: You're right that it has been very challenging for our industry. However, we have a very good team, loyal team. And I think this is the secret to be able to have consistency and deliver a beautiful experience to our clientele.

When we reopen Le Bernardin, the entire staff from the dining room came back and we have in the kitchen most of our team-- all the sous chefs, which are basically managers in the kitchen, and so on, pastry chefs, and my chef and so on came back. So that team is very loyal and that makes us very strong. And, of course, working hard and being very vigilant with the quality of the products and so on. That's part of the success as well.

- And, chef, I want to get your perspective on the ingredients because we talk with business owners quite often here and about the supply chain problems people are having. I had the chance to peruse your menu it looks beautiful. I wish I had to had lunch before I did that. But I'm looking at ingredients like black truffles, golden imperial caviar. Are you finding it difficult to get some of these more exotic ingredients? And it seems like you use quite a few of them.

ERIC RIPERT: Yes, we have a very big menu with a lot of choice. In terms of getting the products, it's not that difficult. We are getting everything that we need. Now, it is-- the challenge is the inflation. Products are more expensive because, I believe, the difficulties of getting them in the country, and also because it's less people working, and it's a lot of increase in salaries that creates a big inflation. And that's where the challenges are. But in terms of finding anything we want, it's very easy.

- And, you know, so you're able to procure these ingredients and transportation costs have gone up. Are you then having to adjust your menu in any way to compensate or are you having to raise prices on the meals that you serve and passing that onto the customer?

- So what we decided to do is to raise the prices and pass it on to the customer. Of course, we absorb a little bit of the inflation because it will be too much of an increase on the menu and we don't want to do that. So it's split in between our clients and ourselves. And we can basically survive that inflation pretty well.

- And, chef, I got to ask you about curbside, streetside dining here in New York City. It's been a very, I'd say, contentious issue. If you go to The Village, the streets are pretty much full of restaurants-- I guess over overrun. Is this something that you support, especially in the long run as businesses are lobbying many of them to make this a more permanent establishment?

ERIC RIPERT: So, first of all, Le Bernardin never did that because we are a luxurious restaurant and I believe that the experience is in our walls and not outside. I know that a lot of restaurants did it because it was a matter of survival for them and it was OK during the pandemic.

Now we are getting out of it and I think those [INAUDIBLE] have to stop because, first of all, it's not very practical for the clients. Even with the heaters in the winter, it's very, very cold. When it's windy and so on, the food gets cold very quickly. And so the experience is not really fantastic. And also the problem of those [INAUDIBLE] is that it's impacting the traffic, it's also bringing our rodents in the streets, it's-- it has to go.

- I agree with you. They have to go. But, chef, also I want to ask you-- so many high end restaurants they closed for a part of the period during COVID and you say that most of your staff did return, so that's a great testament to you that you obviously you have loyal staff. Did you have to pay them more to return? And then also want to ask you very quickly, you know, when you did come back, I'm sure it took a while for business to pick up, but now you do say power lunches are returning to the menu at Le Bernardin.

ERIC RIPERT: Yes. When we reopened, we were at 25% capacity and that was a mandate from the government. Then we went to 50%, 75%, and now we are at full capacity. What is very interesting is that the power lunch is back. The dining room is packed every lunch during the week. And we are packed at night. And also we have a lot of private events. And it's a lot of corporations that have decided to celebrate or to have some events with us and they are not canceling those events. So this is, for us, very good news.

Now, our employees when they came back we adjusted their salaries because it's an inflation and, therefore, they feel it as well and we want them to have a good salary that allows them to live comfortably. So we did that immediately. From the very small salaries to the big ones, we raised everybody.

- All right. Chef Eric Ripert, we will have to leave it there-- Le Bernardin chef and co-owner. Congratulations on all your accolades and good luck with the holiday season. I know it is a busy period for you.

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