Q & A With Thomas Keller: New Restaurant, New Cookbook + Why He Loves Broiled Lobster With Mayonnaise
Thomas Keller is a busy man right now, between opening his new Bouchon Bistro (the third) in Beverly Hills, going on a national book tour for his new cookbook (the fourth), Ad Hoc At Home, and running what can be described as a small empire. It's a very organized empire. It has lots of labels, which are often in French. The gleaming metal doors to the new walk-in refrigerators at Bouchon, set to open next Wednesday night, each have their own labels: Poisson, for example, for the fish station's own walk-in. There are also labels underneath the kitchen clocks reading "Sense of Urgency." But it's the kind of organization that makes sense, the way that a mis en place makes sense, at once an efficient work station and a beautiful, vaguely Renaissance still life.
Deborah Jones Chef Thomas Keller
Keller made some time yesterday to talk to us about the merits of such organization, what it feels like to open his first restaurant in L.A., the possibility that he may yet open a Bouchon Bakery here, and his first culinary memory, involving a broiled lobster. Check back tomorrow for Part 2 and a recipe from the new book.
Squid Ink: What it's like to open up a restaurant up in Los Angeles, especially after not having been here since you worked at the Checkers Hotel dining room in 1991?
Thomas Keller: Certainly it's scary. I mean my last time here, although it was great being in Los Angeles--I love Los Angeles--it wasn't the best career move I ever made. Nonetheless it got me to The French Laundry, so in hindsight coming to Los Angeles was the best career move I ever made. I'm very nervous, a bit frightened. It's opening a restaurant. You're putting yourself out there; people are going to come and judge you on the quality of their experience. We're working really hard to make sure that our guests have a really great experience and part of that is to make sure that our staff has a great experience. Building them a restaurant where they can work comfortably and be organized and efficient and have a good time is paramount to my philosophy of opening restaurants.
SI: Why Beverly Hills?
TK: It was really where we found the space. We weren't really looking, then we were looking, and then we weren't looking, and then it just came up. It seemed to be a good synergy. We're right next to the Montage, Wolfgang's across the street. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, is in the center of things; people can get to it from the east, from the west. It's a brand new building, and it allowed us to be a part of the opening of that building, which is really exciting. It just seemed to work out right.
SI: You didn't end up opening a bakery?
TK: It was a space issue. Originally we were going to open a bakery where the wine bar is, but looking at the design of the kitchen, we felt like it would consume too much space. So we decided to change it to a wine bar. We felt like that was more consistent with Bouchon, with the food and with the hours. A bakery opens at 7 in the morning; it's manned 24 hours a day. Having said that, now I can tell you that there is a smaller space right next to Bouchon which we're trying to get for a bakery. Hopefully the city will be as excited about that. It's not a confirmed deal. We're working on it.
A. Scattergood Bouchon kitchen clock
SI: You have a camera at The French Laundry kitchen. Will you have one here?
TK: We have a video feed between Per Se and the French Laundry. We're going to have a video feed between all three Bouchons--Bouchon Yountville, Bouchon Las Vegas and Bouchon Beverly Hills. Three-way. By early summer it will be all five-way. So each restaurant can view the other restaurants. Only the kitchens. It takes a while to get that technology installed. Not from our standpoint, but from whoever does it, from ATT or whomever.