kottke.org posts about Thomas Keller
I've spent part of the last couple of days trying to figure out what Thomas Keller is getting at here with his distinction between passion and desire:
It's not about passion. Passion is something that we tend to overemphasize, that we certainly place too much importance on. Passion ebbs and flows. To me, it's about desire. If you have constant, unwavering desire to be a cook, then you'll be a great cook. If it's only about passion, sometimes you'll be good and sometimes you won't. You've got to come in every day with a strong desire. With passion, if you see the first asparagus of the springtime and you become passionate about it, so much the better, but three weeks later, when you've seen that asparagus every day now, passions have subsided. What's going to make you treat the asparagus the same? It's the desire.
"Follow your passion" is something you hear really often in tech/design/startup circles, so it's interesting to see Keller take it to task.
Writing for The Awl, Jeb Boniakowski shares his vision for a massive McDonald's complex in Times Square that serves food from McDonald's restaurants from around the world, offers discontinued food items (McLean Deluxe anyone?), and contains a food lab not unlike David Chang's Momofuku test kitchen.
The central attraction of the ground floor level is a huge mega-menu that lists every item from every McDonald's in the world, because this McDonald's serves ALL of them. There would probably have to be touch screen gadgets to help you navigate the menu. There would have to be whole screens just dedicated to the soda possibilities. A concierge would offer suggestions. Celebrities on the iPad menus would have their own "meals" combining favorites from home ("Manu Ginobili says 'Try the medialunas!'") with different stuff for a unique combination ONLY available at McWorld. You could get the India-specific Chicken Mexican Wrap ("A traditional Mexican soft flat bread that envelops crispy golden brown chicken encrusted with a Mexican Cajun coating, and a salad mix of iceberg lettuce, carrot, red cabbage and celery, served with eggless mayonnaise, tangy Mexican Salsa sauce and cheddar cheese." Wherever possible, the menu items' descriptions should reflect local English style). Maybe a bowl of Malaysian McDonald's Chicken Porridge or The McArabia Grilled Kofta, available in Pakistan and parts of the Middle East. You should watch this McArabia ad for the Middle Eastern-flavored remix of the "I'm Lovin' It" song if for nothing else.
And I loved his take on fast food as molecular gastronomy:
How much difference really is there between McDonald's super-processed food and molecular gastronomy? I used to know this guy who was a great chef, like his restaurant was in the Relais & Châteaux association and everything, and he'd always talk about how there were intense flavors in McDonald's food that he didn't know how to make. I've often thought that a lot of what makes crazy restaurant food taste crazy is the solemn appreciation you lend to it. If you put a Cheeto on a big white plate in a formal restaurant and serve it with chopsticks and say something like "It is a cornmeal quenelle, extruded at a high speed, and so the extrusion heats the cornmeal 'polenta' and flash-cooks it, trapping air and giving it a crispy texture with a striking lightness. It is then dusted with an 'umami powder' glutamate and evaporated-dairy-solids blend." People would go just nuts for that. I mean even a Coca-Cola is a pretty crazy taste.
I love both mass-produced processed foods and the cooking of chefs like Grant Achatz & Ferran Adrià. Why is the former so maligned while the latter gets accolades when they're the same thing? (And simultaneously not the same thing at all, but you get my gist.) Cheetos are amazing. Oscar Meyer bologna is amazing. Hot Potato Cold Potato is amazing. Quarter Pounders with Cheese are amazing. Adrià's olives are amazing. Coca-Cola is amazing. (Warhol: " A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.") WD50's Everything Bagel is amazing. Cheerios are amazing. All have unique flavors that don't exist in nature -- you've got to take food apart and put it back together in a different way to find those new tastes.
Some of these fancy chefs even have an appreciation of mass produced processed foods. Eric Ripert of the 4-star Le Berdardin visited McDonald's and Burger King to research a new burger for one of his restaurants. (Ripert also uses processed Swiss cheese as a baseline flavor at Le Bernardin.) David Chang loves instant ramen and named his restaurants after its inventor. Ferran Adrià had his own flavor of Lay's potato chips in Spain. Thomas Keller loves In-N-Out burgers. Grant Achatz eats Little Caesars pizza.
It's called Finesse and it's available at any of Thomas Keller's restaurants.
The theme of the 64-page first issue is history, so Keller and co. have collected stories -- and the expected gorgeous photography -- all about the Laundry and every aspect of the restaurant: longtime staffers, former cooks, journalists.
Ruth Reichl and Michael Ruhlman pen articles. Chefs of all kinds make cameos. But it's more than that -- the magazine also highlights lesser known, yet essential parts of the French Laundry machine, like the wine producer who partners with the restaurant to create the Cuvee French Laundry.
The NY Times has a really sweet story about Thomas Keller and the rekindling of his relationship with his father.
Mr. Keller ate many of the dishes in the book with his father at Ad Hoc. Even after the accident they would go, despite the physical challenges of getting his father out of the house. Ms. Cunningham said she used to worry about how customers might feel watching the famous chef feed his father. "Here he was taking care of his father just like a baby," she said. "For Thomas, it didn't make the slightest difference. Whatever he could do to make his dad comfortable he did."
The chef as caretaker, literally feeding a loved one...I don't see anything unusual about that at all. Isn't that what all chefs should aspire to? (thx, andy)
If you're daunted by The French Laundry Cookbook and Under Pressure, Thomas Keller is coming out with a more accessible cookbook based on his casual Yountville restaurant: Ad Hoc at Home.
Keller showcases dishes that can be made every day (and not just for special occasions). Invaluable lessons, secrets, tips and tricks -- as well as charming personal anecdotes -- accompany recipes for such classics as the best fried chicken, beef Stroganoff, roasted spring leg of lamb, hamburger, the crispiest fried fish, chicken soup with dumplings, potato hash with bacon and melted onions, and superlative grilled cheese sandwiches, apple fritters, buttermilk biscuits, relishes and pickles, cherry pie -- 200 recipes in all.
It's due November 1. Ruhlman, did you have a hand in this one?
Update: Ruhlman says "yes".
Another new book out in the fall is Thomas Keller's Under Pressure, the chef's long-awaited cookbook on sous vide cooking.
In "Under Pressure", Thomas Keller shows us how sous vide, which involves packing food in airtight plastic bags and cooking at low heat, achieves results that other cooking methods simply cannot -- in flavor and precision. For example, steak that is a perfect medium rare from top to bottom; and meltingly tender yet medium rare short ribs that haven't lost their flavor to the sauce. Fish, which has a small window of doneness, is easier to finesse, and salmon develops a voluptuous texture when cooked at a low temperature. Fruit and vegetables benefit too, retaining their bright colors while achieving remarkable textures. There is wonderment in cooking sous vide -- in the ease and precision (salmon cooked at 123 degrees versus 120 degrees!) and the capacity to cook a piece of meat (or glaze carrots, or poach lobster) uniformly.
Under Pressure is out October 1, 2008 and plays Bowie when you open the cover. Keller and Michael Ruhlman have also begun work on a book that "will focus on family-style cooking, in the style of Ad Hoc, and great food to cook at home".
Video of Charlie Rose's conversation with chef Thomas Keller the other night. Good stuff as always, although I'm disappointed about how completely he's embraced the idea of the chef as empire-tender rather than as a person who cooks.
I realized the other day that I prefer eating at places where the person that owns the place is in the kitchen because no one else is going to care as much about your meal and experience as that person. Which doesn't mean that you can't find excellent food and experiences at Per Se or the diner around the corner, but the increasingly prevalent fine dining empires feel like, in the words of Bilbo Baggins, "too little butter spread over too much toast". (via eater)
This week's New Yorker has a profile of David Chang, chef/owner of the Momofuku family of restaurants. The profile isn't online but Ed Levine has a nice write-up with some quotes.
Just because we're not Per Se, just because we're not Daniel, just because we're not a four-star restaurant, why can't we have the same fucking standards? If we start being accountable for not only our own actions but for everyone else's actions, we're gonna do some awesome shit. [...] I know we've won awards, all this stuff, but it's not because we're doing something special -- I believe it's really because we care more than the next guy.
Reading the article, it appears that Chang is using Michael Ruhlman's The Soul of a Chef as a playbook here. Caring more than the next guy is right out of the Thomas Keller section of the book...with his perfectly cut green tape and fish swimming the correct way on ice, no one cares more than Keller.
For Pixar, the making of Ratatouille included some time in real kitchens and restaurants, complete with a stop at the French Laundry for some face-time with Thomas Keller.
The nominees for the 2007 Beard Awards were announced this morning. I'm disappointed that Alinea and Grant Achatz aren't on the list more (Achatz got a lone nomination for best chef in the Great Lakes region) but am happy to see David Chang, Ssam, Thomas Keller, and Wylie Dufresne on the list.
Michael Ruhlman is guest-blogging up a storm over at Megnut. Ruhlman is the author Soul of a Chef and (with Thomas Keller) of The French Laundry Cookbook, among many others.
Bouchon Bakery has dog biscuits with foie gras and bacon in them. Taste test verdict? "Not good for humans. Good for spoiled dogs."
Ed Levine gets served a hot dog at Per Se. "I'm quite sure this was the first time Thomas Keller ever served anyone a hot dog in one of his restaurants." Let's see if this works...I totally want a hot dog next time I'm at Per Se. (via the eater)
Megnut reports that Thomas Keller (an In-N-Out fan) may be doing his own burger joint in the Napa area. He must have tired of Danny Meyer crowing about the Shake Shack at all those restauranteur slumber parties. (ps. Shake Shack reopens in 6 days!)
Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery is set to open in the Time Warner Center on March 6. They're going to "serve various breads, pastries, and cookies of the highest quality" as well as "sandwiches, salads, soups, and even hand-made chocolates".
Church of the Customer takes a look at how a Northern California restaurant called Cyrus competes with The French Laundry in attracting local customers, particularly those from wineries with big expense accounts for entertaining clients:
1. Match your competitor's exceptional quality.
The food at both restaurants was cooked perfectly and beautifully presented. Both delivered flawless service. By matching the quality of its better-known competitor, Cyrus removes the primary barriers of opposition.
2. Allow your customers to customize.
The French Laundry offers three prix-fixe menus of nine courses each. Cyrus allows its customers to choose their number of courses and the dishes.
Local competition still matters. You usually think of restaurants like The French Laundry as competing on a national or international level. Over the years, Keller's flagship has made several short lists of the best restaurants in the world. But as this article demonstrates, having to compete for the same pool of local customers can drive competitors to achieve a high level of excellence, higher perhaps than they would have achieved without that competition, and that excellence could lead to wider recognition. Even companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Amazon who compete on a global level and don't interact with their customers face-to-face still have to vie with each other for local resources, particularly employees.
Thomas Keller gets the butter for his restaurants from 6 cows in Vermont. The woman who owns them sells more than 80% of her butter to Keller: "When you're small you can have a relationship with the people who buy your food. The reason I'm not big is because I'm a perfectionist. I've got to sell to someone who is the same way."
Forbes has a list of 10 chef "tastemakers", including Thomas Keller, Alain Ducasse, and Grant Achatz.
Here's the recipe for the sandwich that Adam Sandler makes in Spanglish; he was taught how by Thomas Keller. "Im told that making sure that the yolk doesnt break until you cut the sandwich is key."
Oddly, chef Thomas Keller (not the poker player) has never tasted "Oysters and Pearls", one of his signature dishes. "In the ten years it's been on his menu, he's never once tasted it, and now is too superstitious to even think about it."
James Surowiecki, the New Yorker's resident economist, weighs in on the tipping debate. (Previously discussed here.)
Wanna go work for Thomas Keller? Per Se is using Craigslist to fill some server openings in the front of the house.
Thomas Keller's Per Se is getting rid of tipping, opting for a 20% flat rate for service to be split between the entire staff.
This review of Per Se mentions their non-alcoholic wine pairings. "With each course, we were given a beverage - ranging from grape juice to steamed milk - which complimented the tastes in the dish. Libby's 'Red Rice and Beans' was completed by a lime margarita. My foie gras with a gossamer grape juice that was finer than most wines."
James Beard Award winners for 2005. Batali is best chef, Per Se is best new restaurant, Danny Meyer is "outstanding restauranteur".