Thomas Keller: Recipe for Success

As culinary leader Thomas Keller expands his reach, his legacy is reinforced with complex new flavors

Chef Thomas Keller has a collection of restaurants that have garnered seven Michelin stars combined—including Per Se, Bouchon, and The French Laundry. He has also authored award-winning cookbooks, including The French Laundry Cookbook, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc at Home. Finally, Keller reaches an ever-increasing community of diners through his magazine Finesse, with its rich thematic stories by diverse luminaries.

Keller’s contributions, however, extend far beyond the restaurants, cookbooks, and magazine, even beyond his other impressive endeavors as an executive of a multimillion-dollar business. Ultimately, what carries the chef—and the legacy he’s built—centers on a greater measure of teamwork, mentorship, and giving back.

Keller’s globally renowned restaurants may credit their extraordinary impact to a collection of individuals who herald a singular vision. The Thomas Keller Restaurant Group (TKRG) upholds twelve core values that are artfully displayed on each kitchen’s walls from Beverly Hills to London, and include principles like Collaboration and Responsibility. These values fortify the team’s dedication to colleagues, critics, the profession, and community. As Keller describes it, “We are a group committed to common goals: making memories for our guests and for ourselves, developing a secure and ideal work environment, and elevating the standards and expectations of the restaurant industry.”

The French Laundry’s temporary closure earlier this year, as TKRG began a renovation to ensure the restaurant continues to evolve and set new standards, illustrates their fundamental commitment to relationships. The group opened a pop-up restaurant, Ad Lib, for 200 days. Keller explains, “Ad Lib allowed us to retain employees and sustain our longstanding relationships with purveyors and other partners. It was vital that we continue to play our part because each of these relationships is invaluable. They are the heartbeat.”

“[Homeboy graduate] Javier [Medina] is a great asset to our team and how he’s transformed his life is inspiring. It’s exciting to be part of his evolution as a chef.”

Mentorship, with teamwork, comprises the spine of a restaurant and as the James Beard Foundation states, “A chef is only as good as the cooks that come out of his or her kitchen.” Keller knows this well; he recently fulfilled a longtime goal of gathering great chefs from the last generation to explore sharing their knowledge with younger generations. Among them were such culinary icons as André Soltner, Jean-Yves Piquet, Michel Richard, and Jacques Pépin. They convened at Per Se and dined on a special multi-course dinner. Keller tells CSQ, “I had hoped to honor them, but through their simple gesture—allowing me to feed and nurture them—I felt deeply honored, too. For these chefs had been my role models. As a young chef in New York City, I would press my nose to the glass of the restaurants where these chefs worked and make notes about the dishes, compositions, and techniques.”

In this same vein, Keller has a remarkable partnership with Homeboy Industries. When CSQ last spoke with Keller, it was a nascent partnership with the nonprofit founded by Jesuit Father Greg Boyle, which trains and supports formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women. TKRG has since included eight interns at Bouchon in Beverly Hills. Javier Medina, a recent graduate of the Homeboy program, is now a permanent team member. Bouchon’s Chef de Cuisine David Hands was so impressed by Medina’s skill and strong work ethic that he immediately hired him to bake bread on the pastry team. Keller shares, “Javier is a great asset to our team and how he’s transformed his life is inspiring. It’s exciting to be part of his evolution as a chef.”

On other transformative fronts, Keller will open a restaurant at Related Companies’ Hudson Yards, the largest development in New York City since Rockefeller Center. This redevelopment project of Manhattan’s far West Side broke ground in 2012 and the expectation is that 24 million people will visit the 28-acre Hudson Yards each year. Keller will also collaborate with Kenneth Himmel, president and CEO of Related Urban, to select eleven additional restaurants for the site.

Thomas Keller

Chef & Owner | Napa Valley Restaurant

Flash Forward
In fall 2012, CSQ interviewed chef, restaurateur, and author Thomas Keller. Since that time, the 60-year old leader in the culinary arts has launched several important projects, including a historic renovation of The French Laundry’s kitchen and revitalization of a neighborhood in Manhattan, while continuing his powerful partnership with Homeboy Industries, a local nonprofit that changes life prospects for high-risk, formerly gang-involved men and women. For our 2015 Philanthropy, Art, & Culture edition, CSQ reconnected to find out what’s on Keller’s mind today.