A visit to the French Laundry  MAY 31 2002

It all began innocently enough with a book. As Meg read The Soul of a Chef, she kept interrupting me on the plane, "Thomas Keller is a perfectionist freak. We have to go eat at The French Laundry. It sounds soooo amazing." I smiled and nodded, going back to my reading each time, not really knowing if she was serious or not. For Christmas, I got her The French Laundry Cookbook. Soon after, the French Laundry Fund was started, saved pennies, quarters and dollar bills with an eye on going to Yountville to dine on Thomas Keller's perfections.

Dollars and coins piled up in the Fund jar. A reservation was made two months in advance, the soonest they take reservations at the restaurant. Friends were enlisted to go along. It was to be an event. We were going to eat art.

It was the best meal I have ever had. Twelve courses in all, each one a little bit of perfection leading you smoothly into the next course. I ate things I generally don't care for -- carrots, lobster, sea bass, and bone marrow -- and I couldn't get enough. The service was great as well; course, pause, course, pause, bread, pause, course...it was well-timed without seeming mechanical. Our server had worked in the kitchen as a chef for a couple years so he entertained us with little tidbits about the food, Keller, and the inner workings of the restaurant during our 3 1/2 hour meal.

As we were reluctantly leaving at the end of the meal, our server followed us out to the foyer. "Would you like to go back and meet Thomas?" We huddled by the door of the bustling but oddly quiet kitchen, watching Keller plate two or three courses for the dining room. When he had a free moment, Meg went over and chatted with him for a couple of minutes, showing him her Fund jar and telling him how much we had enjoyed the meal. As good as our dinner was, seeing the childlike sparkle in Meg's eyes while she talked with Keller was the high point of the evening. It's not often you get to meet your heroes.

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