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Thomas Keller

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Thomas Keller
Keller in 2009
Born (1955-10-14) October 14, 1955 (age 68)
SpouseLaura Cunningham
Culinary career
Cooking styleFrench

Thomas Aloysius Keller (born October 14, 1955) is an American chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author. He and his landmark Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry in Yountville, California, have won multiple awards from the James Beard Foundation, notably the Best California Chef in 1996, and the Best Chef in America in 1997. The restaurant was a perennial winner in the annual Restaurant list of the Top 50 Restaurants of the World;[1] the voting process has since been changed to disallow previous winners from being considered.

In 2005, he was awarded the three-star rating in the inaugural Michelin Guide for New York City for his restaurant Per Se, and in 2006, he was awarded three stars in the inaugural Michelin Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area for The French Laundry. He is the only American chef to have been awarded simultaneous three-star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants.[2] His restaurants currently hold seven Michelin stars in total: three at Per Se, three at The French Laundry, and one at The Surf Club Restaurant.[3]

Early life and career[edit]

Keller's mother was a restaurateur who employed Thomas as help when her cook got sick.[4] Four years after his parents divorced, the family moved east and settled in Palm Beach, Florida. In his teenage summers, he worked at the Palm Beach Yacht Club starting as a dishwasher and quickly moving up to cook. It was here he discovered his passion for cooking and perfection of the hollandaise sauce.

During summers, he worked as a cook in Rhode Island. One summer, he was discovered by French-born Master Chef Roland Henin and was tasked to cook staff meals at The Dunes Club. Under Henin's study, Keller learned the fundamentals of classical French cooking. After The Dunes Club, Keller worked various cooking positions in Florida and soon became the cook at a small French restaurant called La Rive in the Hudson River valley in Catskill, New York. Thomas worked alone with the couple's grandmother as prep cook. Given free rein, he built a smokehouse to cure meats, developed relationships with local livestock purveyors and learned to cook entrails and offal under his old mentor, Roland Henin, who would drop by on occasional weekends. After three years at La Rive, unable to buy it from the owners, he left and moved to New York and then Paris, apprenticing at various Michelin-starred restaurants.[5]

After returning to America in 1984, he was hired as chef de cuisine at La Reserve in New York, before leaving to open Rakel in early 1987. Rakel's refined French cuisine catered to the expensive tastes of Wall Street executives and received a two-star review from The New York Times. Its popularity waned as the stock market bottomed out and at the end of the 1980s, Keller left, unwilling to compromise his style of cooking to simple bistro fare.[6]

The French Laundry in Yountville, California

The French Laundry[edit]

Following the split with his partner at Rakel, Keller took various consultant and chef positions in New York and Los Angeles. In the spring of 1992 he came upon a restaurant in Yountville, California, founded by Sally Schmitt, in a space formerly occupied by an old French stream laundry. She and her husband Don purchased the building in 1978 and converted it into a restaurant.[7] Keller spent nineteen months raising $1.2 million from acquaintances and investors to purchase the restaurant, then re-opened it in 1994. Over the next few years the restaurant earned numerous awards, including from the James Beard Foundation, gourmet magazines, the Mobil Guide (five stars), and the Michelin Guide (three stars).[1]

In April 2009, Keller became engaged to longtime girlfriend and former general manager at the French Laundry, Laura Cunningham.[8]

Other restaurants and pursuits[edit]

Food and dining[edit]

Bouchon restaurant in Yountville, California

After the success of The French Laundry, Thomas and his brother, Joseph Keller (currently owner/chef of Josef's in Las Vegas), opened Bouchon in 1998. Located down the street from The French Laundry, it serves moderately priced French bistro fare, with Bouchon Bakery opening next door a few years later (in 2006 Keller opened a branch of the bakery in the Time Warner Center in Manhattan). Keller has joked in the past that the motivation for Bouchon's opening was to give him somewhere to eat after work at The French Laundry. On January 26, 2004, Keller opened his restaurant Bouchon in Las Vegas. On February 16, 2004, Keller's much-anticipated Per Se restaurant opened in the Time Warner Center complex in New York under the helm of Keller's Chef de Cuisine, Jonathan Benno. Per Se, which was designed from scratch and custom-built as part of the overall construction process, was an immediate hit on the New York restaurant scene, with reservations booked months in advance and publications including The New Yorker and The New York Times giving rave reviews. The latest restaurant, "ad hoc", opened in September 2006 in Yountville with a different fixed price comfort food dinner served family style every night. Originally intended to be a temporary project while Keller planned his lifelong dream restaurant for the location, serving hamburgers and wine,[9] he decided to make ad hoc permanent and find a new location for the hamburger restaurant due to its popularity.[10]

  • Yountville, CA: ad hoc, addendum, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, The French Laundry, La Calenda
  • New York: Bouchon Bakery, Per Se, TAK Room (closed)
  • Las Vegas: Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery
  • Miami: The Surf Club,[11] Bouchon Bistro

Prior to the opening of The French Laundry, Thomas Keller started a small olive oil company called EVO, Inc. in 1992, with his girlfriend of the time, to distribute Provençal-style olive oil and red wine vinegar. Recently, Keller started marketing a line of signature white Limoges porcelain dinnerware by Raynaud called Hommage Point (in homage to French chef and restaurateur, Fernand Point) that he helped and a collection of silver hollow ware by Christofle. He has also attached his name to a set of signature knives manufactured by MAC.[12]

Keller is the president of the Bocuse d'Or U.S. team and was responsible for recruiting and training the 2009 candidates.[13] The former French Laundry Chef de Cuisine Timothy Hollingsworth won the Bocuse d'Or USA semi-finals in 2008, and represented the U.S. in the world finals in January 2009 under Keller's supervision where he placed 6th.[14][15][16] On describing his reasons for accepting the Bocuse d'Or Team USA presidency, Keller stated, "When Chef [Paul] Bocuse calls you on the phone and says he’d like you to be president of the American team, you say, ‘Oui, chef’. He's the role model, the icon".[17]

In 2012 he announced he was at the point of his career when it was time to step away from the kitchen. The important thing, he said, is to make sure to give to young chefs the right things, the right mentoring because "if we're not truly working to raise the standards of our profession, then we're not really doing our job."[18] He permanently closed his restaurant TAK Room, located in Hudson Yards, during the coronavirus pandemic. The throwback restaurant had been opened in March 2019, and had been his first New York restaurant in 15 years.[19]

Publishing and film[edit]

In 1999, Thomas Keller published The French Laundry Cookbook, which he considers his definitive book on cuisine. That year it won three International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) awards for Cookbook of the Year, Julia Child "First Cookbook" Award, and Design Award. In 2004 he published "The Bouchon Cookbook," although he gives most of the credit to Bouchon chef Jeffrey Cerciello.[20] Other cookbooks that he has written or contributed are The Food Lover's Companion to the Napa Valley, Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide, Ad Hoc at Home (2009) and Bouchon Bakery (2012). He provided an introduction or foreword to The Vineyard Kitchen: Menus Inspired by the Seasons by Maria Helm Sinskey, "Happy in the Kitchen" by Michel Richard, "Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts" by Claire Clark (head pastry chef at The French Laundry), the new publication of "Ma Gastronomie" by Fernand Point, "Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing" by Micheal Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. He is also featured in "My Last Supper" by Melanie Dunea.

Working on the film Spanglish, Keller designed and taught star Adam Sandler to cook what is often called "the world's greatest sandwich", as a plausible example of what a talented bachelor gourmet might cook for himself. The sandwich resembles a typical BLT, with the addition of a fried egg.[21][22] In an interview with Vogue Man Arabia he described the BLT as "the perfect sandwich".[23] Keller served as a consultant for the 2007 Pixar animated film Ratatouille, allowing the producer to intern in the French Laundry kitchen and designing a fancy layered version of ratatouille, "confit byaldi", for the characters to cook. In the American version he makes a cameo appearance as a restaurant patron (the part is played by one of Keller's mentors Guy Savoy in the French version, and Ferran Adrià in the Spanish one).[24] Keller is frequently referenced in the restaurant workplace comedy-drama The Bear, with Keller making a special guest appearance as himself in the Season 3 episode "Forever".[25] A different character in the series portrayed by Joel McHale is very loosely based on Keller, although with exaggerated negative character traits.[26]

Keller currently has three online cooking classes at Masterclass.com, pursuing his belief in teaching.[27][28][29]



  • Keller, T. The French Laundry Cookbook. Artisan Publishers, 1999. ISBN 1-57965-126-7
  • Keller, T. Bouchon. Artisan Publishers, 2004. ISBN 1-57965-239-5
  • Keller, T. Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide. Artisan Publishers, 2008. ISBN 1-57965-351-0
  • Keller, T. Ad Hoc at Home. Artisan Publishers, 2009. ISBN 978-1-57965-377-4
  • Keller, T. Bouchon Bakery. Artisan Publishers, 2012. ISBN 978-1-57965-435-1
  • Keller, T. The French Laundry, Per Se. Artisan Publishers, 2020. ISBN 978-1-57965-849-6


  1. ^ a b "Thomas Keller and The French Laundry Awards" Archived July 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Venetian.com.
  2. ^ (in French) Anaïs Digonnet, "Le chef américain Thomas Keller reçoit la Légion d’honneur" Archived September 24, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. France-Amérique. March 29, 2011.
  3. ^ "MICHELIN Guide Reveals Inaugural Florida Selection". Michelin North America, Inc. (Press release).
  4. ^ Kramer, Jane (September 5, 2005). "The Quest". The New Yorker. p. 3.
  5. ^ "per se" Archived October 29, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. DininginFrance.com.
  6. ^ Matt Duckor, "The Thomas Keller Interview, II: On Benno, Bouchon and Brooklyn" Archived April 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. The Feast. March 23, 2011.
  7. ^ "Thomas Keller Biography and Interview". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  8. ^ "Thomas Keller to Wed". FoodGal.com. April 23, 2009.
  9. ^ Johs Stens. "Prix fixe to the people: Thomas Keller goes populist with his new restaurant, Ad Hoc". San Francisco Magazine.
  10. ^ "Ad Hoc to become permanent". San Francisco Chronicle. January 17, 2007.
  11. ^ Buch, Clarissa (June 7, 2018). "writer". www.tastingtable.com. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  12. ^ "TK SET - Thomas Keller Limited Edition Set" Archived August 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Macknife.com.
  13. ^ Bocuse d'Or Team United States 2009 dossier Archived November 15, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Sciolino, Elaine, The New York Times: Diner's Journal (January 28, 2009). The American Chef Comes in Sixth
  15. ^ Cowin, Diana, Food & Wine (February 2009). Competing at the Bocuse d’Or: Team USA’s Unbeatable Recipes
  16. ^ Vallis, Alexandra, New York Magazine: Grub Street (November 6, 2008). Chef Timothy Hollingsworth Wants to Bring American Pressure to the Bocuse d’Or
  17. ^ Sciolino, Elaine, The New York Times (January 26, 2009). High Hopes for American Team in Bocuse d’Or Cooking Competition
  18. ^ "Chef Thomas Keller :'Preparing myself to let go'". FineDiningLovers.com. June 6, 2012.
  19. ^ Christina Izzo, Bao Ong, Amber Sutherland-Namako (October 29, 2021), "75 notable NYC restaurants and bars that permanently closed since 2020", TimeOut{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ "French Laundry chef talks about celebrity life". MSN. May 22, 2007.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ Brian Van (October 26, 2005). "Make yourself a Spanglish sandwich". Gothamist. Archived from the original on June 26, 2007.
  22. ^ J.J. Schnebel. "Who cooked that up? The Spanglish sandwich". Archived from the original on May 24, 2007.
  23. ^ "Chef Thomas Keller on Why Food Isn't The Point Of a Restaurant". Vogue Man Arabia. December 3, 2017. Retrieved January 7, 2018.
  24. ^ Stacy Finz (June 28, 2007). "Bay Area flavors food tale: For its new film 'Ratatouille,' Pixar explored our obsession with cuisine". San Francisco Chronicle.
  25. ^ McCarthy, Amy (June 27, 2024). "Every Single Chef Cameo in Season 3 of 'The Bear'". Eater. Retrieved June 28, 2024.
  26. ^ Bardini, Julio (June 27, 2024). "The Mean Chef in 'The Bear' Is Actually Based on a Real Person". Collider. Retrieved June 28, 2024.
  27. ^ "Thomas Keller - Teaches Cooking Techniques I: Vegetables, Pasta, and Eggs at masterclass.com". Masterclass. July 2020.
  28. ^ "Thomas Keller - Teaches Cooking Techniques II: Meats, Stocks, and Sauces". Masterclass.com. July 2020.
  29. ^ "Thomas Keller - Teaches Cooking Techniques III: Seafood, Sous Vide, and Desserts". Masterclass.com. July 2020.
  30. ^ "The James Beard Foundation Awards Presents 1996 Winners". Starchefs.com. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  31. ^ "Search:"Thomas Keller"". James Beard Foundation. Retrieved October 10, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  32. ^ "The 1998 Bon Appétit Awards: Chef of the Year". Bon Appetit. Archived from the original on April 13, 2013. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  33. ^ "Table of Contents". TIME Magazine. September 17, 2001. Archived from the original on January 13, 2005. Retrieved June 19, 2011.
  34. ^ Joel Stein (September 17, 2001). "Chef: Captain Cook". TIME Magazine. Archived from the original on January 13, 2005. Retrieved June 19, 2011.
  35. ^ "The S. Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants in the World, 2003". Archived from the original on September 20, 2012. Retrieved October 3, 2012.
  36. ^ "S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants, 2004". Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  37. ^ "S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants, 2005". Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  38. ^ "S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants, 2006". Archived from the original on January 1, 2013. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  39. ^ "S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants, 2007". Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  40. ^ "S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants, 2008". Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved October 12, 2012.
  41. ^ Melanie Young (May 2, 2005). "Winners Announced For 2005 James Beard Foundation Awards" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 25, 2017. Retrieved June 19, 2011.
  42. ^ "Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor for Thomas Keller". Archived from the original on August 8, 2011. Retrieved June 19, 2011.
  43. ^ "American chef Keller to be admitted into French Legion of Honor". The Independent. March 10, 2011. Archived from the original on November 11, 2012. Retrieved June 19, 2011.
  44. ^ "Thomas Keller – The S.Pellegrino Lifetime Achievement Award Winner 2012". Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  45. ^ "Thomas Keller wins Lifetime Achievement Award".
  46. ^ Culinary Hall of Fame Induction
  47. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]