Thomas Keller is a world renowned and multiple award winning American chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author. His landmark restaurant, French Laundry, is located in Napa Valley and has also won multiple awards for its cuisine. French Laundry and his New York restaurant, Per Se, have also each been awarded the three-star rating in the inaugural Michelin Guide.
But what’s behind all of the awards—who is Thomas Keller? While some call him the “food industry’s Yoda” or “Father Jesus Keller” and his undisputed talent in the kitchen gets both him and his restaurants plenty of publicity, Keller tends to keep his personal life just that—personal.
Here are some of Keller’s little life secrets which you may have never guessed about the man donning the pristine white kitchen coat.
He may be a master in any kitchen now, but Keller admits that he has never had any formal training at culinary school. He says, “When I started cooking, there wasn’t really any school to go to. My mother ran a restaurant and said, ‘Do you want to be a chef?’ and I said yes.”
When Keller wants to relax with a glass of wine, he says his top choice is Zinfandel. He comments, “I love young Zinfandels. Maybe it’s that American brashness or sensibility in me. It’s really forward in fruit, it’s big and thick and rich and juicy.” His favorite meal on the other hand, according to the chef, is roasted chicken. He says, “Food like roasted chicken has reference points, and that touches you inside.”
When it comes to burning chocolate chip cookies, you’re not alone. Even Keller himself admits to burning those stubborn chocolate treats. “I’ve baked chocolate chip cookies at my sister’s house in Florida and they’re just terrible, because the oven’s terrible,” he says.
In stark contrast to his elegant and flavorful French cuisine, Keller says that his earliest food memory is of spaghetti mixed with cottage cheese and sautéed onions which his mother, Betty, made for him in the 1950’s.
Life’s not always easy for an award winging chef. Even Keller has had his fair share of career setbacks, including early on in his career when he was forced to close two restaurants—and he was even fired from two. Despite this, Keller knows the best way to overcome mishaps is to “just keep going forward.”
Moving forward is certainly something Keller has accomplished, and this may have something to do with his meticulousness and self-proclaimed nitpicking. “Everything has a process and you have to pay attention at every step of the way. Toasting a piece of bread is a process! You have to pay attention and you have to get everything just right to have a good piece of toast.” Along with following processes, Kelly has extremely stringent rules for the French Laundry’s daily menus. He insists that most ingredients only be used once on the menu, but considering the dinner has nine courses and a great deal of elements, this challenge which Keller sets is certainly nothing to scoff at.
Last, but certainly not least, a very personal part of Keller’s life is about to change. Last year it was announced that Keller plans to wed his longtime girlfriend and former director of operations for The French Laundry, Laura Cunningham.