Tuesday, May 22, 2007

No, Thomas Keller does not run Per Se and did not write the Bouchon cookbook. Next question.

Speaking in San Francisco Thursday, French Laundry executive chef Thomas Keller was especially blunt about his detachment from his New York restaurant Per Se and his second cookbook Bouchon.

Keller spoke in San Francisco last Thursday at the Commonwealth Club, fielding a variety of questions from the audience and moderator Tara Duggan from the Chronicle.

The topic of celebrity chefs came up, and Keller said he basically has five restaurants to provide opportunities to his staff. In the way of explaining how great his staff is at running things, he put some significant distance between himself and some of his projects:
[Bouchon founding chef Jeffrey Cerciello] wrote an extraordinary book -- that's his book. I know my name is on the cover -- that's a publishing house thing.

[At Per Se,] I wanted to make sure our developers who built the buildings really understood what a commitment building a restaurant was. I say that as someone who is somewhat detached from it because it is a Jonathan Benno restaurant.

It's not breaking news that celebrity chefs are not heavily involved in each of the several restaurants they typically run, and Cerciello was mentioned in the cover flap for Bouchon cookbook. But it was interesting to hear Keller really emphasizing the point, because it swims against the marketing that emphasizes Keller's role in the restaurant and book.

By the way, there didn't seem to be any question that Keller is still firmly in control at the flagship restaurant, the French Laundry in Yountville, and he was clear about his intense involvement in the French Laundry Coobook, published in 1999.

Keller also talked about the prices at his restaurant, molecular gastronomy and French Laundry's recent purchase of a ... well, of a laundry. The whole thing is supposed to air on KQED at some point.

More in my Business Times update: French Laundry chef talks about celebrity life (free link)

This event was also blogged by Laura Froelich, who has some additional quotes.

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NS said...

I thought that some of Keller's comments were disingenuous.

For example, he suggested that the only reason that reservations are so hard to get is because the food is so good, and that the only thing he could do to rectify the situation is to offer worse food. That, of course, ignores the fact that the restaurant does not insist upon two seatings for every table, meaning that many tables can accommodate only one party for the entire night (e.g., if the party gets seated at 7:30). This is a policy seemingly designed to keep the tables in especially short supply.

Another example was his flip comment about why he implemented a mandatory service charge, taking the decision away from the diner. He claimed that only he, as the servers' boss, should get to set their compensation, and that any diner complaints about service should be directed to him. I would love to know how many people have been able to reach Mr. Keller to have a heart-to-heart with him about service problems (of which there are many, in my view). Somehow, I doubt there are many such individuals.

May 22, 2007 5:19 PM  
connie said...

so what was his favorite cheese? his desert island cheese? the kind of cheese he would be?

May 22, 2007 11:45 PM  

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