Meet the Chef: Thomas Keller

Creating meals that are emotional experiences.
Photograph by Deborah Jones

After starting his culinary career working in a Palm Beach restaurant managed by his mother, Betty, Thomas Keller migrated to France in 1983 where he worked with several Michelin-starred chefs. When he returned to the U.S. a few years later, he opened his first restaurant in New York City. In 1994, he took ownership of The French Laundry in Napa Valley and quickly earned national acclaim for its cuisine and philosophy. “A great meal is an emotional experience that returns you to sources of pleasure you may have forgotten and takes you to places you haven’t been before,” Keller says.

Photograph by Michael Grimm

In addition to his restaurants, Keller has written best-selling cookbooks, opened Finesse kitchen store, developed products with All-Clad, Christofle Silversmiths and Raynaud, and consulted on films including Ratatouille, which won both Golden Globe and Academy Awards. He also helped lead Team USA to gold at the 2017 Bocuse d’Or Culinary Olympics.

What is an essential kitchen item?
TK: A good set of knives. With Cangshan Cutlery, we’ve developed a collection that is well-balanced and feels good in your hand. They are appealing from a design perspective and functional knives for both home cooks and professional chefs.

Photograph by Deborah Jones

What’s a favorite indulgence?
TK: I’m a fan of peanut butter and am drawn to Bouchon Bakery’s Better Nutter cookie—two sweet and salty peanut cookies sandwiched with decadent buttercream filling made with creamy peanut butter. We developed these as a nod to my favorite cookie from childhood, the Nutter Butter.

Why did you equip The French Laundry and your other restaurants with Hestan’s products?
From ingredients to temperature, every detail colors your food. Cook thoughtfully, and every nuance dances on the plate. Hestan’s engineers understand this. Every hinge, burner and knob is designed to enhance performance; every intuitive innovation is built around the chef.

What’s a restaurant you enjoy, other than your own?
TK: Besides the NYC old school classics—Jean Georges’ Jo Jo, Café Boulud—recently in Cleveland, Daniel Boulud and I had the most amazing pastrami sandwich at Larder Delicatessen
and Bakery.

What’s your favorite comfort food?
TK: In-N-Out cheeseburger with grilled onions and extra crispy fries. And I will often enjoy a square of our K+M Extravirgin dark chocolate bar. We make the bars in Napa Valley and have added extra-virgin oil in place of cocoa butter. It’s a sublime experience and good for you too with that extra boost of antioxidants.