Celebrity Chef Thomas Keller

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Celebrity Chef Thomas Keller has it all. Whether it’s delicious celebrity recipes focusing on comfort foods with a special twist, or the perfect desert at the end of the meal, you know that you are in for a gastronomique delight.

Readers can get a glimpse into Chef Thomas Keller personally and professionally in excerpts from Anne McBride’s interview with Chef Thomas Keller. Find out what it’s like having restaurants on two coasts, the background behind  menu concepts, opinions on today’s sustainability and a little about Keller personally.

How did you decide when you opened the French Laundry to go for that concept over something more casual?

The decision was made for me because that’s what the restaurant’s format was. It was a prix fixe menu. They didn’t offer any choices in their prix fixe menu. It was one menu. It was like Chez Panisse. Sally and Don Schmitt, who opened French Laundry, opened it about the same time that Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse, and it was just about ‘come to my house and have dinner. This is what we’re cooking tonight.’ They offered a four-course menu at that time, and when we first opened, we offered a four-course menu, and then we added a five-course menu to it. And it just evolved from there, slowly but surely, then we eliminated the four-course menu, and we added a nine-course menu. We added a vegetable menu. The process of evolution. Then we changed the five courses to seven courses. So, little by little, it evolved to what it is today.

Is that the best way to experience your cuisine?

I think it’s the best way to experience anybody’s cuisine who’s in this group that I’m in, if you will, and I don’t say that in an arrogant way, because I don’t know [laughs]. I mean, the idea of writing a menu for me, now, is becoming obsolete.

But would you be able to switch to a non-menu format?

I hope so. That’s my direction. If you come in tonight, you should have enough confidence in this restaurant, in this staff, in the chefs in this restaurant, and their ability to procure the best ingredients, and say, ‘okay, the chef is cooking for you tonight.’ You would say, ‘fine.’

And you don’t think people trust you?

I think people have become accustomed to having way too many choices in our society and our cultures. It becomes confusing. Dining’s about experiencing the person you’re with and having a good time, and having really good food in a really wonderful, environment, with great wines, and service in the correct way. I feel most comfortable, and this is from my experience, going to my colleagues’ restaurants, and saying, ‘Daniel, just make whatever you want,’ because I know that you’re going to do something great. And certainly, he does. So when I start to think about this, this is very interesting, because I go to these restaurants. I don’t order a thing. The wine comes. The food comes. I can spend time with the person I’m with. I enjoy the food. I don’t really have the expectations that I have about what I’m ordering. To me, that’s extraordinary. And that’s the way it used to be.

The original restaurants didn’t have menus. You’d go in and they would feed you. But as things evolved, people felt that they had to have choices. You look at wine lists today. Why do you have to have 2,000 choices on the wine list? To really look at the wine list, and study the wine list, in a way to be able to make a choice, you spend half an hour or 45 minutes. And what is your guest doing while you’re looking at the wine list? You and I are out to dinner, and I’m going to spend 45 minutes with the wine list, and you’re going to sit there and look at me? You’re going to be kind of upset, no?

Probably!

Right [laughs]. So I’m going to say, ‘we’d like some really nice wine. Maybe a Pinot Noir, from California, or from France, and I want to spend around 300 dollars tonight on a bottle.’ The sommelier comes back with two choices. Okay, because I trust the sommelier. That’s his job. He should know his wines in his wine cellar.

I think that a lot of people just want to be in control of what they’re eating.

But what is the definition of pure luxury? Not to be in control. To go into an environment, and trust the environment, and just enjoy it. When I go on vacation, I don’t want to go to a place where I have to have choices. I want to go to a place where everything is taken care of. I don’t have to ask for something.

How big is your wine list here at Per Se?

Too big. It’s ridiculous. I’m talking to my sommeliers about that. But sommeliers are saying ‘we need to have more wines, more wines.’ Forgive the phrase, but it becomes like a pissing contest. Who can have the bigger wine list.

But you asked about directions of the menus. Hopefully we’ll get to [abolish menus]. Like next door, at Masa. There’s no menu. You can go in there, and you have one of the most extraordinary meals of your life. Did you need to choose anything? No. He did it all for you. And in many ways, it’s such a relief, having that part done for you at this kind of restaurant.

Is it hard to be you?

Yeah. Sometimes, I really want to be bad and do something terrible, but I realize I can’t do it anymore. I have the responsibility. You have to be strong enough to accept the responsibility. And strength comes with experience. So hopefully, I’ll continue to be able to set the right example. But I guarantee you that I always won’t. I mean, I’m a human.

NOTE

These questions are excerpts from a longer, in depth, interview by Anne E. McBride for The Institute of Culinary Education. It’s a fun read for anyone appreciating great chefs and their culinary achievements. Check out Anne’s blog for more fun reads!

Per Se was just named the best restaurant in New York City by the New York Times!

– The Gourmet Review

 

 

 

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