Sunday, Feb. 01, 2004
It is mid-January, and Thomas Keller, one of the country's most celebrated chefs, has just arrived from Napa Valley, Calif., to the coldest weather in New York City in 10 years. Over the weekend the pipes froze and burst in the new high-rise Time Warner Center building where his restaurant, Per Se, is located, so there is no water. The floor in his kitchen is being re-laid for the third time to get it level. The fire alarm keeps going off with flashing lights and a deafening siren, and platoons of electricians, plasterers and carpenters are working frantically to get the place ready for the building's opening in three weeks.
It will be a masterpiece
None of this bedlam fazes Keller, 48, who is used to the organized chaos of a busy kitchen. Instead he has zeroed in on a minor detail, the tiny labels on the Garnier Thiebaut linen that has just arrived from France. "Especially made for the French Laundry" they read, referring to Keller's four-star restaurant in Napa instead of Per Se, for which the linen was ordered. That few if any diners will notice the label on their napkin is immaterial; Keller knows it is wrong. And it irritates him.
His eye for detail is one way that seperates Keller from some of the others
Celebrity chefs have become an industry in the past decade — but with very patchy records. Despite all the TV and franchising, some, like Rocco DiSpirito, have suffered from quality-control issues or damaged their reputation.
Do you think this will happen to Keller?
Keller has found a typically idiosyncratic solution to the management problem. He has set up an eclectic six-member advisory council to mentor him on the expansion of his business: two bankers, an attorney, a restaurant consultant, an accountant and a psychologist. (Chefs are a little crazy, as anyone in the restaurant business will tell you.) He has increased staff training to reassure himself that the pursuit of perfection will be maintained even when he is not in the kitchen. And, as insurance, he is installing a live video link between the kitchens of the French Laundry and Per Se so he can eyeball the day's squid preparation or vegetable selection on a large plasma screen.
Have I not reported on our meal at Per Se? Shame on me.
The short version is: disappointing, taken all in all, and ESPECIALLY when you realize that lunch for three cost
For that much, everything should have been phenomenal. It was not. In fact, some of it was fairly awful -- artichokes with no flavor whatsoever in a vegetable ragout; filled pasta that suffered from the usual gumminess-at-the-thicker-edges one gets at places that don't know how to cook pasta.
Some of it WAS transcendant, such as a couple of foie gras preparations. I'll have to check my notes elsewhere for what else was good.