I always tell my cooks that if you start cooking with mediocre (or worse) ingredients, even if you are a genius of a cook, you will have a mediocre dish in the end.
We strive to find the best ingredients from all over the world. For the vegetables and fruits, we buy organic as much as we can, usually from small-scale farming operations in upstate New York, Long Island, Pennsylvania and Ohio. But organic does not guarantee the quality of the ingredients. Sometimes if a vegetable or fruit is not properly grown it can be mediocre as well. When we receive produce deliveries each morning, we make sure to conduct random taste tests before accepting the delivery—a carrot here, a raspberry there, and we feel more confident that we're getting the best possible products. I also keep an eye on product durability. A flat of mâche or an ear of corn might look and smell gorgeous when we receive it, but is it rotting by the next morning?
As for the fish, we have a few extremely reliable connections. One is Browne Trading, in Maine, and the other is Blue Ribbon, at the New York fish market. We are extremely specific about our seafood. We inspect every fish that comes in—literally, one by one. We do not accept anything that smells "fishy," and we make sure that the blood vessels in the bellies of each fish are bright red, not brown, and that they do not have that muddy, low-tide aroma. In short, we have a zero-tolerance policy for any product that is not to our standards. To be able to do that, we have had to develop excellent relationships with fishermen and fish mongers, over the course of many years. At the end of the day, fundamentally, it is a matter of trust on both sides: Our purveyors trust our judgment when we decide not to pay for a delivery, and in return, we do not try to bargain down their prices, and we pay their invoices on a weekly basis.
Of course, our customers' experience at Le Bernardin is not only about food. It is also about service, ambience and great wine (in moderation). In my next entry, I'll talk about the process of creating a new dish.
Dan Jaworek — Chicago — February 16, 2007 5:00pm ET
Peter Cargasacchi — Sta. Rita Hills — February 18, 2007 10:54am ET
Eric Ripert — New York — February 20, 2007 6:53pm ET
Richard J Habeeb — staten island, new york — February 21, 2007 9:09pm ET
Thomas A Mobley Iii — Tallahassee, FL — February 22, 2007 11:56pm ET
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