Monday, September 24, 2007

Thomas Keller 'not going to be able to keep the quality' while selling frozen food, Ruth Reichl says

Photo cropped from original courtesy mikebaudio on FlickrBloomberg this morning published a Thomas Keller feature on its financial news wire, exploring whether diversions like a 20-room hotel, catering operation and frozen food line will impact quality at Keller's flagship French Laundry.

Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl tells Bloomberg's James Temple, " You have to expect that with your attention that diverted, you're not going to be able to keep the quality ... I just don't think that's possible.''

The story notes that Keller consulted on the Pixar movie Ratatouille, in which the main character becomes upset when a chef's image is used to sell frozen food on television. And yet Keller recently "designed and placed his name on two real- life frozen dishes for FiveLeaf, a unit of Cuisine Solutions Inc., based in Alexandria, Virginia. The company will soon begin pitching one, Mac and Cheese Lobster with Orzo, to retail stores, said Lillian Liu, the company's marketing manager."

Michael Bauer says, "Once you get into frozen food and pizzas, your fine dining brand gets a little fuzzed out." He is refering to Wolfgang Puck, apparently, but the reader will probably draw a parallel to Keller.

Keller said he mitigates against the risks of growth by
  • growing slowly and carefully, as when he shut down French Laundry for nearly 5 months while working on Per Se,
  • plugging in the old staff at new ventures,which keeps quality high and keeps staff from leaving for bigger opportunities.

Bauer weighed in on this topic in August, saying he did not think the French Laundry has lost its edge and still operated on "a sublime level" above other restaurants. He added that a recent meal there "wasn't as remarkable" as one two years prior, his all time favorite meal.

In July, I summarized some French Laundry backlash from online food writers.

Bloomberg: French Laundry's Keller Takes Plunge With Frozen Foods, Burgers

(Photo cropped from original courtesy mikebaudio on Flickr via Creative Commons license. You may redistribute and "remix" this cropped version under the same license.)

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