Keller mixes luxury with simplicity

He cooks foie gras and lobster regularly, but top-rated US-chef Thomas Keller says he's no snob: burgers and sushi are enough to satisfy him.

by: Melanie Lee | 06 Feb 2008

The 52-year old's French-American restaurants have raked in Michelin stars including the highest three stars each for French Laundry, set among the wineries of Napa Valley, California, and gourmet New York eatery Per Se.

Q: How would you describe your cooking style?
A: "Modern American food with French tradition. We try to establish new reference points for people. For example when I say macaroni and cheese, most people would think of the Kraft blue box. But we do a macaroni and cheese that has lobster and orzo (a type of pasta) so when you eat our mac and cheese – bang! – you got a new reference point."

Q: What's your cooking motto?
A: "One of our overriding philosophies is the law of diminishing returns, which is: the more you have of something the less you like it. We establish our compositions based on the view that when you are finished with a dish, you wished you had one more bite. That way you have reached the highest flavour for that dish and it becomes memorable."

Q: What were your food influences growing up?
A: "As the youngest of five boys, I had to fight to get what was leftover. Right now, I'll eat anything and I'm not a snobby eater. I can enjoy a McDonald's hamburger. You eat these things because you remember it from childhood and it's comforting."

Q: What's your favourite cuisine?
A: "My favourite food is sushi. The Kaiseki dinner (traditional multi-course dinner) is very similar to the way we serve food in the French Laundry. I like the simplicity of Japanese food. That you can take a piece of fish and some rice and make it so compelling visually, the way it smells and tastes. That's distilling something down to the simplest form."

Q: Would you open restaurants in other parts of the world?
A: "There is so much interest in high profile chefs that people want you to open a restaurant everywhere. Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong etc. I could agree to open a restaurant in any one of these cities tomorrow. But I'm well known because of what I do in my restaurant, building a foundation for years, and that foundation is not easy to transport half way around the world."

Q: What is the most challenging thing about being a chef?
A: "The constant desire to try to do a better job everyday and to set an example. For all that, you are human and sometimes you want to get lazy. Yet you realise that the higher you get, the more respect you have and the more expectations you have on you, the less you can be human."

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