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In his new cookbook, chef Thomas Keller illustrates the unique connection between his two three-Michelin-starred restaurants—The French Laundry in Yountville, California, and Per Se, in New York City. Aptly named, The French Laundry, Per Se vividly depicts the synergy between these celebrated kitchens through a series of iconic recipes, personal essays, gorgeous photography, stories about suppliers, and tips on fine cooking techniques.
Ambitious home cooks and professional chefs alike can challenge themselves to recreate legendary dishes—such as “The Whole Bird,” Tomato Consommé, and Smoked Sturgeon Rillettes on an Everything Bagel—while gaining Keller’s seasoned insight. Revelations include his approach to sourcing superior ingredients, encouraging young talent, and what it takes to cook and lead a business at the highest level. With nearly 400 pages, The French Laundry, Per Se is a fascinating and eloquent exploration of one of the most significant restaurant relationships in modern times.
It’s been nearly a decade since your last book came out. What influenced you to release The French Laundry, Per Se now?
TK: We wanted to release it on the 25th anniversary of The French Laundry. We didn’t quite make that timeline, but we thought it would be a good time because it really represented the influence that the franchise has had on our community, as restaurants and as a profession. But, more so, how one restaurant in Yountville, and the philosophy and culture of that restaurant, helped the restaurant in New York City establish a strong foundation, which then gave us a great chance for success.
Can you describe the unique kinship between the two restaurants?
TK: The French Laundry was 10 years old when Per Se opened, and the idea of having a sister restaurant in New York City was significant. The ability for one team to go to New York and inoculate a second team was a milestone—not just for us, but as an example to other restaurateurs and other chefs on a successful way to do that. The influence that the two restaurants have on one another today, 16 years later, is as impressive. And now they are true equals, in two different environments, but based on the same ideals, and the same examples, and using some of the same farmers, fishermen, foragers, and gardeners—and in their own communities, being able to support those who support the individuals who are in those restaurants. I think the evolution of the two restaurants, and how they fit together, is a great example for our teams and our restaurant community.
The book features stories of your suppliers and farmers, along with personal essays from your chefs and staff. What inspired you to include such insight?
TK: It needs to be a story. Cookbooks have always been about recipes—you know, it's photo, recipe, photo, recipe—but there was nothing that really drew me in. The book that influenced me the most was Ma Gastronomie by Fernand Point. The first half of the book is stories, and even his recipes are stories. That still remains my favorite book and helped sparked the idea for The French Laundry to include stories and really represent what a restaurant is; it’s not just about a chef. It's about the people—your staff, your team in the kitchen and dining room, your suppliers, it’s all of that. I know my name is on the book, but restaurants are so much bigger than one person. Without the stories, it would just be a recipe book.
Can you highlight any recipes of particular importance to you?
TK: It’s fairly well known that eggs are my favorite ingredient. And the soft boiled egg with shaved white truffles is not just stunning in its presentation, but its execution. It’s one of those dishes that represents simplicity, but also has an elegance and a sense of luxury. And that’s what we try to do; simple is hard. Being able to poach an egg correctly seems simple, but it takes some effort, it takes some time, you have to pay attention to what you’re doing. So that's certainly one of my favorite recipes. And then David’s ode to ‘Yabba Dabba Doo’ (The French Laundry’s famed Roasted Rib Steak with Golden Chanterelles, Pommes Anna, and Bordelaise Sauce). He (referring to Chef de Cuisine David Breeden) does Steak and Potatoes (100-Day Dry-Aged Côte de Boeuf, Braised Brisket “Tater Tots” and Gem Lettuce Salad with Green Goddess Dressing), which is a new version of the dish.
What do you think the road forward looks like, particularly for fine dining?
TK: I’ve been in this for 42 years and we have to be able to support restaurants—whether they're the little sandwich shops on the corner, which are the ones I worry about the most, or quick service or fine dining restaurants. If we want our neighborhoods to have dining, in any sense, we need the support of the communities. Fine dining is strong. We see it in Yountville and now we see it in New York (Per Se reopened on October 15th). It’s so wonderful to see guests come back to the city to enjoy the restaurants. I know we don't have museums, we don't have Broadway, we don't have all the things that we normally have, but at least we have some restaurants that have reopened and give a reason to come back. We're trying to support our community. It’s important to recognize what a restaurant does, and its entire supply chain—our farmers, fishermen, foragers, gardeners—I mean, they have a reason to work again. And now they're supporting their communities. A restaurant is an extraordinary thing; it has a life of its own, and that life supports so many others, not just locally, but across the country.
What is the most important takeaway from The French Laundry, Per Se?
TK: The most significant thing that the book represents is that the idea of one person running a restaurant is just not true; it’s always been a fallacy. It's really about a team—and that team goes beyond just the restaurant. It’s also the suppliers, who we work with all the time to elevate the quality of the products they give us. Why do you go to a fine dining restaurant? You go because you can get things you can’t get anywhere else.
I’m incredibly proud that we have such a strong team, but not just a strong team, we have a strong team that's committed to the restaurants, which means they're committed to the evolution of that restaurant. And they understand how important it is to be hiring and training and mentoring the next generations, which will eventually take over from them. You know, I stand on the shoulders of the generations that came before me, and I want my shoulders strong enough for future generations to stand on them.
The French Laundry, Per Se is available to order today ($57, Amazon.com).