Eric Ripert’s commitment to putting fresh ingredients on New Yorkers’ plates extends far beyond the formal dining room of Le Bernardin. He is also an ardent promoter of City Harvest—a nonprofit group dedicated to feeding the needy of New York City—which he chose as his beneficiary for the Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition.
For 30 years, City Harvest has been gathering food from the city’s restaurants, including Le Bernardin, as well as from farmers’ markets, supermarkets, farms, corporate cafeterias—anywhere anything edible is grown or cooked—and delivering the provisions to programs that now serve 300,000 people every week. Unlike food pantries, which do very well at collecting canned food and other staples, City Harvest focuses on quickly moving perishables—such as eggs, bagels, juice, and produce—onto the tables and plates of those in need.
After working with City Harvest for 13 years, Ripert recently was named chairman of the group’s Food Council, a board of industry professionals and star chefs, including Dan Barber and David Chang. One of the group’s accomplishments is a new distribution center in Queens with ties to a national network of food donors. When the network informed the center that 18 and a half tons of sweet potatoes were available from a farm out of state, notes Ripert, “City Harvest was able to send trucks to go get those sweet potatoes.”
City Harvest also stages mobile markets, staffed by volunteers, in the South Bronx, on Staten Island, and other locations in the city where residents can pick up fresh fruits and vegetables free of charge and learn from Ripert and other chefs how to cook them. “Often people don’t know what to do with that broccoli and apples and potatoes, and chefs go there and teach them,” he says.
At City Harvest’s annual fund-raising auction last April, Ripert made news when his offering of a dinner cooked in a private home for 20 people went for $200,000. And that was after he put in the $1,100 winning bid on a bottle of Herradura tequila. He also has showcased the group’s efforts on his PBS series, Avec Eric.
Six hundred food banks, soup kitchens, and other outlets receive supplies from City Harvest, which says it collects 42 million pounds of salvageable food every year to the benefit of more than one million New Yorkers.
One more reason Ripert loves City Harvest: “It’s so well run. They spend almost every penny on the organization.” The amount expended on food assistance is 91 cents of every dollar raised.