(CNN) — Three-course meals and fine china were a daily ritual for the family of Eric Ripert, a native of Antibes, France and raised in Andorra. So it was hardly a shocker when he left home for culinary school at the age of 15. Roughly a decade later, he landed in NYC in 1991 taking a position at Le Bernardin and quickly becoming a rising star on the heels of his "French Connection" friends Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Jacques Torres.
After the passing of his Le Bernardin mentor, Chef Owner Gilbert Le Coze, Ripert took over the kitchen, where he had to learn to run the show—a huge undertaking in a massive, top-rated restaurant. It was at that moment he experienced a radical personal transformation and later embraced Buddhism, which not only allowed him to control his temper but incorporate a more minimalistic cooking style. It's hardly any wonder, then, why he's known as "Mr. Zen" to his friends. Keeping it cool earned him a four-star rating from the New York Times in 1995, followed by a whopping 7 James Beard Awards and solid three Michelin stars in 2005, a title they've held ever since.