MARSEILLE, October 2015—I don’t know if I learned anything while running around Marseille with my good friend, chef Eric Ripert. I knew already that I liked cheese. As it was the south of France we were shooting in, I had reasonable expectations that things would not suck.
Eric, though, definitely learned something. He learned that Marseille, France’s second-largest city, is awesome. He didn’t know this because he had never been there before, which is kind of incredible given that he grew up only a HUNDRED MILES AWAY in Antibes.
Why would that be? How could that be?
A fair number of French people will tell you in unguarded moments that “Marseille is not France,” and what they mean by that is that it’s too Arab, too Italian, too Corsican, too mixed up with foreignness to be truly and adequately French.
But anybody who knows me knows that’s exactly the kind of mixed-up gene pool I like to swim in and eat in. It is a glorious stew of a city, smelling of Middle Eastern spices, garlic, saffron, and the sea.
So in this episode I got to introduce Eric to part of his own damn country—in his own neighborhood—for the first time.
As the chef and an owner of three-Michelin-star Le Bernardin in New York City, he has a reputation to protect. As many of the world’s most wealthy, powerful, and influential people are regular customers of his, Eric must be constrained at all times in his opinions. He’s a diplomat.
I, on the other hand, have pretty much made a living out of insulting people.
It can be a difficult thing to be my friend, given some of my previous behaviors, my free and perhaps too-frank offering of opinions. I’m sure it’s caused Eric awkwardness at times, which is why it’s so much fun to torture the guy.
So I enjoy my tiny victories: forcing him to make pizza in the back of a food truck would be one of them. (Pizza is very big in Marseille.)
Maybe there was some learning after all. We both learned that Marseille is a great, underappreciated travel destination, a hidden gem that isn’t hidden at all—a great city with great food and great views, sitting right on the edge of the blue Mediterranean, surrounded by freakin’ Provence. It’s got it all.
And we learned that Eric’s pizza-making skills are for shit.