Once Upon A Time – Thomas Keller

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After years of marriage, I’m not the only one full of surprises. Husband managed one too while in Napa Valley where we planned to have dinner at Bouchon to celebrate 17 years of surprising bliss. I dressed, he drove, and we were almost to the door when he suddenly stopped and said he had something better planned.  I couldn’t believe it, and thought he was going to drop to his knee and propose all over again.  Not quite, but did take my hand and whisk me around the corner to a waiting limo and champagne filled ride to that star of all culinary stars, the famed French Laundry.  Oh my!  If I weren’t so stunned I would have tumbled right out of the limo and ended up laundered too. What a prince and happily escorted this little princess to a beautifully candlelit table, which even for a real prince takes months to secure.

Thanks to Thomas Keller, the culinary God who turned the one-time brothel and 100-year-old house into an epicurean landmark, and the only chef in America to claim not one, but two 3-star restaurants. Keller, a one time dishwasher who then became a young failed chef, only to dust himself off and head to Napa Valley where he raised more than $1 million and opened the French Laundry which had once been, you guessed it – a French steam laundry. Now, what were we talking about? Oh yes…love.

There I was, so close to his eponymous kitchen, I nearly tumbled out of the chair too. The waiter came, the wine poured, a toast and a kiss, and husband so deliriously happy I didn’t even dare blink at the kitchen.  How could I?  Not on our anniversary and the organ he no doubt sacrificed to get the table.  But, oh, just to have one whiff of that kitchen, and the toilette right there.  And, well, I did need to freshen up just a bit. So forgive me, darling, but that culinary treasure was just too damn tempting, and honestly intended to come right back.  If only the maitre d’ had stopped me, but didn’t even see me slink by…and those kitchen doors!  As soon as I touched them I knew it was going to be more than a fairy tale night–and husband in need of more than just wine.

You’d think a woman in a leopard coat would be fairly noticeable in a kitchen full of starched blue aprons and pristine chef jackets.  But doubt even a smoke bomb would have summoned much of a look, let alone a reaction from the army of workers huddled over the sinks and stoves and equally pristine white chopping tables. To say that Keller’s kitchen is well run is more than an understatement.  More like a Swiss watch in human form with every motion in perfect sync and even the knives, rising and falling on cue.

Like all good fairy tales, this one ended as happily as you’d expect, except for the food, which was beyond even my fairy tale expectations.  Every time I put the fork to my mouth I had a culinary orgasm and husband did too.  Beyond words, and I don’t think by chance that the waiter insisted we commence with their signature oysters and pearls. The latter being the most exquisite heap of caviar I have ever had and every salty bite….well, even my fork was quivering.  The oyster was tender and soft to the bite but still with a bit of slipperiness that made it roll on your tongue bringing all the flavors together. Accentuating the foulard duck foie gras au torch with 40 million year old aged salt was sublime. The vivid colors of the sweet butter poached maine lobster fricassee, the melting habachi-grilled pork belly in my mouth and contrasting the Point Reyes Blue cheese with buckwheat crepe were over the top.

Each dish that came out of the kitchen was carefully planned and orchestrated.  They consistently do this every single day.  I was blown away by the absolute perfection of the preparation and presentation. I have no idea how Keller does it, manages to make even the plates look like art and every dish so mind blowingly good you would happily sign over your house for just another bite. As Anthony Bourdain said, “It’s like driving a Rolls Royce in mink underwear.”  We didn’t have a Rolls, but the limo was still waiting, and by the time we got through the funnel cake with rum anglaise and salted caramel ice cream, I was deliriously eyeing husband too.

He’s still my biggest turn on and well deserved to return to the royal chamber for the real desert–and a few tantalizing powdered donut munchkins , chocolate covered macadamia nuts and truffles, care of that memorable Laundry and boxed with their signature clothes pin that I would have happily eaten too.

If you’ve been there, you’re lucky. And if you haven’t, then sell whatever you can and go because it’s worth every penny and whatever organs you have to hock.  It’s that fabulous and so is Keller, whose now serving his signature dishes in a pop-up installment on the fourth floor of Harrod’s. (just in case you feel like jetting over for a bite).

Thanks French Laundry for completely spoiling my taste buds.

* From The Archives

With an Italian background, she cites her Mother and grandmother ( Mamie ) as the major influence of her love for food.  Yes, homemade pasta hung from the clothesline in the kitchen and rolling 100 meat balls for a holiday dinner was the norm.  Raised in Pennsylvania. she spent time in Atlanta, Georgia and ultimately settled along the stunning coast of Laguna Beach, Ca. Self taught in everything, she learned to appreciate the amazing flavors, scents and uses for exotic herbs and spices and applies her knowledge to cooking today. Despite enjoying other creative endeavors like painting, photography and clothing design, she realized she would never love another career the way she loves all the stories surrounding food.  And it's capturing those stories that has not only become her greatest passion but a culinary drug worth passing around!  After all, food is a shared experience and no one better to share it with than the entire world. And thus the Food Stalker was born, utilizing all that passion and her fearlessness to capture even the most impossible stories. It's one thing to write about food, but far more exciting to actually capture it and all those stories that make every scent come to life.  And once she sets out, there's no stopping her, because no one follows that scent better than her---and no telling where she'll end up next.  

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