Talking with Chef Thomas Keller is almost as much fun as dining in one of his many restaurants and bakeries, Yountville’s The French Laundry and New York City’s Per Se being his flagships.
Keller was in town for a Chef’s Preview dinner showcasing dishes from a new fall menu that was served at Bouchon, put together by several chefs, among them their Executive Pastry chef Sebastien Roussel, Bryan Podgorski of our own Bouchon Las Vegas, and a number of other luminaries. More on that dinner presently.
I had a chance to sit and chat with Chef Keller over espresso and mineral water earlier that day, and as always, he was forthright, concise and illuminating. A conversation with Chef Keller is likely to span many subjects, from the state of cooking in America to what new projects he has on the fire. Here is a synopsis of what ensued.
Unicahome: Do you think young chefs have gone overboard with the modernist thing?
Keller: All young chefs go overboard-that’s what they do. Every generation has what is called their nouvelle cuisine. Do you realize that high end restaurants didn’t plate food in the kitchen until the late sixties when Paul Bocuse began the trend in France. Food was served from gueridons for the longest time. This molecular, er, modernist thing, is just a form of nouvelle cuisine. The next generation will move on to something else.
Unicahome: What are you working on at present?
Keller: Well, we’ve just remodeled Ad Hoc, our casual prix fixe restaurant in Yountville, and we’re about to open a second Bouchon Bakery at the Venetian, on the side where Sammy D is opening his burger joint, Rattlecan. Honestly, the success of Ad Hoc took me by surprise. So now we’ve put in Addendum, a garden where you can eat lunch or take-out.
Unicahome: So how about long term goals?
Keller: My goal is, and always has been, to elevate the standards of my profession. I really haven’t changed all that much since the beginning. All my restaurants are wine friendly, and the flavor profiles of my dishes are based on that philosophy. The whole to-do about farm-to-table strikes me as silly. We’ve always tried to support fishermen and farmers, and serve food that is as fresh as possible. So I suppose if I have one goal it’s longevity. I want to leave a legacy, and you have to be around a long time to do so.
Unicahome: Are there any undiscovered cuisines you desire to try, or cook?
Keller: Well, to try, yes, but to cook, no. I love Asian food, especially Japanese, since I don’t know how to prepare it. I also love Korean and Chinese cooking. But I’m not quite as curious about other cuisines. There is just too much out there to grasp.
Unicahome: Can you predict any upcoming thrends?
Keller: To tell you the truth, probably not. I’m totally focussed on what I’m doing at the present, and I’m not a soothsayer.
After finishing our espressos, Keller went back to the kitchen, and I returned home, only to return in a few hours for an incredible dinner. This is what I ate.
The evening began with Kir Royale, a flute filled with champagne and Creme de Cassis, and six canapes, tiny finger foods such as a petit croque Madame, the tiny cheese puffs known as gourgeres, and mini-BLT’s, stuffed with pork belly.
After being seated, and enjoying a first course of two types of hearts of palm, sourced form Hawaii and Panama respectively, with beets, Marcona almonds, watercress leaves and a vanilla bean creme fraiche, my palate was wine awake. The wine pairing, Riesling from Albert Boxler of Alsace, was another eye opener.
Next came poached foie gras from Hudson Valley, perfectly pan seared with a crispy outside surface, on a confit of butternut squash flavored with duck jus. The pairing was inspired; a white Burgundy, an ’08 Meursault, in fact, by Gammoux-Hudelot.
The main course was Snake River Farms Platinum “eye of the rib” with braised beef cheek, Nantes carrots, young onion and sauce Perigourdine, a perfect match for a wine from California, a surprisingly rich, inky ’09 Inglenook Cabernet from Napa, where Chef Keller spends most of his time.
Dessert was tarte Tatin, with a buttery sable Breton standing in for the usual puff pastry, and delicious creme fraiche ice cream and ginger custard to complement it. I never got any of the dessert wine, Jaboulet’s ’07 Muscat Beaume de Venise, but on balance, this was a pretty fair evening, and a great day overall, anyway.
We are lucky to have Chef Keller in our constellation of star chefs.
Bouchon, Inside the Venetian. 414-1000.
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