Like many chefs on this side of the Atlantic, Ripp and his partners in cuisine, Tom DePaola and Chris Chase, honed their cooking skills not in Paris or the French countryside, but in California and New York. "Modern French cooking really started in California," Ripp says. "There, the focus is on single ingredients, and we all got to work with produce of unparalleled quality."
Consequently, the chefs take ingredient selection very seriously. To them, steak is not just steak; it has to be the right steak. "We use a flatiron cut of beef, because it has a really strong beef flavor and a nice texture and chew to it which goes really well with french fries," Ripp says. The kitchen team is so passionate about ingredients that DePaola managed to convince Dairyland, a produce purveyor out of Washington, D.C., to start delivering to Richmond so that Can Can could get foods previously unavailable in the area.
In New York (where the produce wasn't nearly as good as in California), Ripp worked at Bouley and Gramercy Tavern, two of the highest-rated Manhattan restaurants, where the focus is on simplicity and sensational taste. "It was all about adding layers of flavor," Ripp says. While working with Chef David Bouley, he says, he learned how to put foods together and compose dishes. Ripp also learned the French art of "finishing" dishes with herbs and butter just before they go to the table. "The French are all about the clever use of butter," he says, laughing. "A little touch of it with some herbs just before a dish goes to the table adds a freshness, and when it's done right, you don't even know that it's there."
But how does all this highfalutin culinary experience translate at Can Can, where the tablecloths are paper, not linen, and the aimed-for ambience is casual, not chic? Ripp believes that a traditional-style brasserie an establishment that opens early and serves late, and fosters a convivial and sometimes boisterous atmosphere is the perfect place to showcase modern French cooking. "Lots of people think of French restaurants as stuffy, tight and expensive, the kind of place you go with your grandmother on a special occasion, and we want to change that," he says. "We want everything on the table to be the best it can be without feeling pretentious or overbearing, because that's the kind of French food we love and like to eat."
Setting such high standards for Can Can has been both exciting and exhausting for everyone involved, admits Ripp, who lauds DePaola and Chase for the time and dedication they've given to the restaurant. (His fierce loyalty to them comes across when he tersely turns away a Style photographer to return when they can be included in a photo.) It hasn't been easy fitting the chefs' cooking philosophy into the fast-paced brasserie setting, and Ripp says that it may be a few months before they feel they've really hit it right on a culinary and service level. In other words, Can Can may have to feel a little old to Richmonders before it can really start to shine at all that's new. Mary Margaret ChappellCan Can Brasserie3120 W. Cary St.
Monday-Thursday: 7 a.m.-1 a.m.
Friday and Saturday: 7 a.m.-2 a.m.
Sunday: 7 a.m.-9:30 p.m.The French Connection continued...