Renowned chef Eric Ripert’s long-standing success at his three-Michelin-starred seafood destination Le Bernardin in Midtown is built on the demanding standards of classic French cooking. But when the chef took to Instagram on January 3 to post what he called a pho recipe from his latest cookbook, it sparked a wave of backlash for what appeared to be a dubious, loose interpretation of what was often regarded as the national law of Vietnam.
Three days into the new year, Ripert posted a post on his Instagram feed with a caption that read: “2022 HEARTWARMING COURSE Vegetarian Vietnamese Pho to warm up on this cold winter day in between lunch and dinner service @lebernardinny. Swipe for it full recipe to make at home from #VegetableSimple! ”
The text was accompanied by a photo of the acclaimed chef sitting at a desk in Le Bernardin’s kitchen, using chopsticks to lift threads of thin yellow noodles with one hand while squeezing a slice of lime over a bowl of broth, several yellows noodles and vegetables. Subsequent slides in the post contained an ingredient list and instructions for making what Ripert called vegetarian Vietnamese pho, a recipe included in his book Vegetable Simple: A cookbook, which was published in April last year.
The first image alone, paired with the caption proclaiming that the concoction inside the bowl was in fact pho, was enough to get some of Ripert’s 658,000 Instagram followers to take a double take. “I thought he ate the ramen at first,” says Hung Tran, a pharmacist in the DC area and self-proclaimed ramen nerd who follows Ripert on Instagram and saw the chef’s yellow noodles as he rolled through his feed. Tran, which is Vietnamese, noticed the discrepancy because pho is typically made with wider, flat, white rice noodles – a signature component of the dish that did not appear to be present in Ripert’s bowl.
From the time of publication, the post remains up on the chef’s Instagram account with almost 200 comments running along with the recipe’s slides, with lots of people chiming in to criticize the pho photos and write-up. “Those noodles are so yellow that they look like they came from a packet of instant noodles …” wrote another commenter, @linhtrinh_nails. “And just because there’s a glue in the picture, does not mean it’s Pho.”
The chef declined through a spokesman to comment to Eater for this story.
It is far from the first time that misguided attempts have been made to highlight pho on a far-reaching platform, or that high-profile white chefs have misrepresented foods from other cultures by eagerly promoting interpretations that are light on cultural context and heavy on inexplicable adjustments. . In 2016 Enjoy your food took a video down by a white chef explaining how to eat pho, and apologized for the mistake. Blogger and cookbook author Tieghan Gerard was accused of cultural appropriation and money laundering of pho in early 2021 after posting a recipe for a chicken and noodle soup, which she originally called chicken pho, before changing the name after setbacks in light of the recipe many deviations from the actual. dish.
The second photo in the Instagram post showed a close-up of the dish, as the photo appears in the cookbook, with apparently different ingredients, including what looked like vermicelli noodles – also not typically used for pho, Tran notes – and slices of radish waving out in the bowl . Two more slides showed an ingredient list for a recipe labeled “Vietnamese Pho,” complete with the aforementioned radishes, soybean sprouts, soy sauce, an undefined selection of rice noodles, and a few sections with instructions for constructing the dish in about an hour. “It didn’t make sense to me,” Tran says. “It was a very strange recipe.”
Others were similarly confused by what Ripert was trying to show with the post. Matt Le-Khac, the chef and owner of the Vietnamese restaurant Bolero in Williamsburg, follows Ripert on Instagram and saw the recipe shortly after he had posted. Le-Khac noted that neither noodles in the first nor the second image appeared to be actual pho noodles, and he wondered why the recipe did not instruct users to char the broth’s aromatic spices and vegetables such as onions and ginger – an integrated steps in luring out the soup’s signature, stomach-warming flavor. “It’s like the typical aroma and essence of broth in Vietnamese cuisine,” says Le-Khac.
Ripert already riffed on the dish by making it vegetarian – classic pho is made by cooking beef bones and simmering the broth for hours to produce a tasty, complex dish – but many chefs have played with pho in various forms, including vegetarian options, and NYC is home to a host of striking variations. Le-Khac himself bends the rules of pho technique at Bolero, where the kitchen team uses a classy combination oven instead of a stove to steam kettles with bones and water for pho and keep the broth simmering at a precise, even heat overnight – just like that, Ripert appears to be using to bake baguettes at Le Bernardin in another recent Instagram post, Le-Khac points out.
Pho itself is a relatively young invention in Vietnam that has its roots in the French occupation of the Southeast Asian country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is common to see repetitions in court as people keep pushing it in new directions, according to Le-Khac, and Ripert is free to participate in that experimentation, in his opinion – as long as it is done within the right context. “We are introducing new techniques” at Bolero, says Le-Khac. “But when we introduce it, we can not lose the soul in the kitchen.”
Vietnamese cookbook author Andrea Nguyen, known for her James Beard award-winning cookbook dedicated to pho, Pho Kogebogen, pointed out that ingredients like radishes are typically not found in pho, and the dish is usually made with mung bean sprouts instead of soybean sprouts. “Without giving any context as to how this recipe came together and why he uses the ingredients he uses, [Instagram] reader is a bit like, ‘what the hell?’, ”says Nguyen.
Ripert’s recipe also did not specify the type of rice noodles they should buy for the soup, leaving chefs to choose from a wide range of options for a core ingredient for pho. “Let’s say I’m looking for French bread,” Nguyen says. “What kind of French bread am I talking about? Am I talking about a baguette or a batard? Or something else?”
The exquisite chef goes into these details for other recipes in the book, including a French soup called an aigo boulido broth. Ripert notes the area of France from which the broth comes, its cultural significance in the region, and why he is a fan of the rich, tasteful dish. The recipe specifically requires sliced baguette, toasted and topped with Gruyere cheese, to combine with the broth.
But Ripert does not seem to extend the same careful context to the “Vietnamese Pho” recipe found later in the book. For an internationally acclaimed chef with a gigantic social media presence seemingly winning over the core components of pho and inaccurately representing a dish from another culture, it felt harmful and regressive to those who understand the importance of pho in Vietnam. “I have the responsibility to present the food of my culture in a very thoughtful way – and he does too,” says Nguyen.
In Ripert’s post, the court labeled pho did not appear to include the basics of its namesake, and it lacked any context explaining what pho is, its significance for Vietnam, and why the chef made the changes he made by constructing his own version of the court. Still, the recipe was circulated to Ripert’s more than half a million followers, many of whom left comments, thanking the chef for sharing the recipe and shouting that they could not wait to try it. “This is not pho, and it’s incredibly sad that so many people on this post now think it is,” one commenter, Tue Le, wrote on Instagram. “If you want to colonize or acquire someone’s food without honoring the cultural roots, then congratulations. You succeeded.”