Eric Ripert's culinary inspiration: Fermented corn beer

July 19, 2012 at 5:06 PM ET

I just got back from Peru, and I found something there called chicha. It's a beer made of fermented corn. It’s a very strange drink and smells very bad when you open the bottle.

I just learned a couple of days ago that chicha was made by the Inca. They chewed the corn and put it in a bucket to ferment. They gave that to their guests of honor! We obviously don’t chew the corn anymore, as it's made in a factory, but that product is very interesting and fascinating to me. I came back with a lot of ideas coming from their culture and with different ingredients, so that’s the obsession of the week.

And now, at my restaurant Le Bernardin in New York, we are using it for a sauce that’s absolutely delicious!

We made a lime chicha sauce, which tops a black bass that we roast. We serve it with a warm summer squash ceviche. I think we’re going to put it on the menu at Le Bernardin today.

Recipe: Try Eric Ripert’s flank steak with chimichurri, potato salad

It tastes amazing! It’s almost like a bouillabaisse without the shellfish flavor, and it’s very fragrant. I like the lime because it brings some brightness and freshness to the sauce and contrasts with the fish. And then you have the sweetness and richness of the squash, but you have the spiciness from the ceviche. It’s a very complex dish that’s really elevates the black bass.

Travel inspires me all the time — sometimes it's become a problem. I remember going to Japan and coming back and suddenly Le Bernardin, which is mainly French, became Japanese for three months. And then, two years ago, I went to Italy on vacation, and I came back and made Le Bernardin's menu Italian.

Every trip has an impact, and I’m often inspired by what I see and eat and, of course, talking to people. This lasts for a few weeks or months, and then I move on to something else. That’s the beauty of traveling and being inspired and bringing it back to Le Bernardin.

Watch Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain cook together and dish it out in the first of episode of Ripert's new web-series, "On the Table."

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