Thomas Keller began his kitchen career at the bottom and worked steadily to earn his post as one of the most celebrated chefs in the in the United States. Today Keller owns a number of French restaurants and bakeries across the country, including the San Francisco eatery The French Laundry, at which he is the executive chef. Several of Keller’s other culinary conquests include Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc. Haute Living Magazine talked with the only American-born chef to have multiple three star ratings by the Michelin Guide to pick his brain on all things French and food-related.
“Traveling and tasting different produce and experiencing other cultures and customs are definitely inspiring. I think being open to new ideas is key, as it allows us to continually evolve.”
How did you begin your career in the culinary world?
My first job was as a dishwasher at the Palm Beach Yacht Club in Florida.
At what restaurants have you been previously employed?
After spending some time in Palm Beach working for my mother, I took a job at The Dunes Club in Rhode Island working for Chef Roland Henin, whom I consider my mentor. My first job with Chef Henin was to cook staff meals. Later in my career, I worked at La Rive in the Catskills of New York before apprenticing in various restaurants in France. I returned to New York to La Reserve and later opened Rakel with Serge Raoul.
What appetizer, entrée and dessert dishes is The French Laundry best known for?
The French Laundry exclusively serves nine-course tasting menus, either chef’s tasting menus or tastings of vegetables. The chef tasting menu changes daily, but there are certain items that have become signature dishes, including Cornet of Salmon, Oysters and Pearls and coffee and doughnuts. I enjoy cooking classic dishes that I remember from my childhood and reinterpreting them using a more modern approach.
Are you a world traveler? If so, how does that inspire your dishes?
I do travel quite often in support of our restaurants and lately have been to Hong Kong, where The French Laundry and Per Se cooked dinners at the Mandarin Oriental. Traveling and tasting different produce and experiencing other cultures and customs are definitely inspiring. I think being open to new ideas is key, as it allows us to continually evolve.
What else inspires your cooking?
Everything. The dish Oysters and Pearls was inspired when I saw a box of tapioca with the word ‘pearls’ on it as I walked down the aisle of a grocery store. I made the association of pearls with oysters and thus brought the tapioca in as a component of the oyster dish.
When you’re not cooking at The French Laundry, where can we find you dining?
I enjoy dining at Bouchon because I enjoy French bistro food and it reminds me of time I spent in France. I also enjoy dining at Ad Hoc because I don’t have to choose from a menu and instead entrust that the chefs have already chosen the best products and preparations for their ingredients for that day’s menu.
What do you do in your free time?
I enjoy golfing whenever I have the opportunity.
6640 Washington St., Yountville, Calif. 94599