Posted On: 07/23/2000
Thomas Keller is known as one of the United States' best chefs, and deservedly so. He is a creative, conscientious chef who understands and loves food, in all of its forms.
Keller recently passed through St. Louis on a tour promoting his new book, The French Laundry, named after his infamous restaurant in Napa Valley, California.
He stopped by The Crossing in Clayton one sunny afternoon to share lunch and discuss food with some lucky St. Louisans. Those of us in attendance were treated to a luncheon of warm Beet Salad with Creamy Goat Cheese(see photo), Ravioli with a savory Tomato Sauce, and a deeply chocolate Brownie with Ice Cream (see photo). The beet salad focused on texture, mixing the soft beets with smooth, flavorful goat cheese. The ravioli played with your palette as it mixed tangy red tomato sauce and sweet filling, while the chocolate dessert mixed a warm chocolate puff with cold, smooth ice cream. All of the food was expertly prepared by The Crossing's staff and paired with their wonderful wine selection.
After all of us had filled ourselves with delicious food and wine, Keller stood for a question/answer session about his career and his restaurant. He answered a range of questions, including how he got his start in cooking. Keller's first job as a cook was at a south Florida restaurant that was managed by his mother. He had absolutely no culinary experience and learned everything on the fly. Hollandaise sauce, of all things, was what launched one of the culinary world's most notable careers. In Keller's quest to perfect his hollandaise (to be used on the restaurant's Eggs Benedict), he found a passion for the process of cooking. And it's that love of the process, the minute details that can make or destroy a dish, that make Keller an exemplary chef.
Keller's book is very well produced-- the writing and photography are wonderful and highly professional-- everything that you would expect a perfectionist like Thomas Keller to publish.
One thing should be made very clear. The French Laundry is much more than a cookbook. It is more of a treatise on food and it helps to explain, in part, the mystique of The French Laundry (the restaurant) and its owner, Mr. Keller.
Much of the book is written by Keller, explaining how he began his career in the restaurant industry, how he came to own The French Laundry, his emotional ties to food. By reading his "cookbook", one cannot only sense the reverence in which he holds food, whether it be an artichoke or a lobster, but also his passion for the creation of masterful dishes by combining texture, taste, aroma, presentation...
Reading through The French Laundry I really found that I LEARNED something about food. I started thinking about how I could combine whatever I had in my kitchen at the time to create something new and wonderful. Keller's cooking style is all about looking at food in a playful, fun way. For example, his signature dish is Oysters and Pearls, a dish made of oysters floated on top of tapioca pudding garnished with osetra caviar. And, while Keller "plays" with his food, he runs an extremely tight ship.
All food lovers should sit down and at least leaf through the pages of The French Laundry. It is one of the most intriguing cookbooks I've read in a long while, and one of the most beautiful. Keller's book does justice to his reputation as a world-class chef, and makes sure to give a nod to all of the people who help him make it happen. Even his purveyors are mentioned in the book with fascinating biographies and photos. I highly recommend The French Laundry without reservation.
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