Thomas Keller is renowned for his culinary skills and his exceptionally high standards. He has established a collection of restaurants that set a new paradigm within the hospitality profession. He is the first and only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from the prestigious Michelin Guide, as well as the first American male chef to be designated a Chevalier of The French Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France. He has received countless accolades, including The Culinary Institute of America's "Chef of the Year" award and the James Beard Foundation's "Outstanding Chef" and "Outstanding Restaurateur" awards.
Keller began his culinary career at a young age, working in the Palm Beach restaurant managed by his mother. He relocated to France in 1983, where he worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants, including Guy Savoy and Taillevent. He opened his first restaurant, Rakel, in New York City in 1986, then moved westward to California to work as the Executive Chef at the Checkers Hotel in Los Angeles.
In 1994, Keller took ownership of The French Laundry in Yountville, quickly garnering nationwide acclaim. His French bistro Bouchon debuted in 1998, with Bouchon Bakery following five years later, both within walking distance of The French Laundry. The other restaurants in his group include the family-style Ad Hoc, also located in Yountville, Per Se and Bouchon Bakery & Cafe in the Time Warner Center in New York City and outposts of Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery at The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. In November 2009, he opened Bouchon in Beverly Hills and introduced his newest concept, Bar Bouchon, in an adjacent space. In May 2011, Keller opened Bouchon Bakery in New York City's iconic Rockefeller Center, followed by another unveiling of Bouchon Bakery in Beverly Hills later that August. In December 2012, he simultaneously opened two additional locations of Bouchon Bakery at The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
Keller is the author of five cookbooks, with more than one million copies currently in print. His award-winning The French Laundry cookbook debuted in 1999, followed by Bouchon and Under Pressure, a cookbook dedicated to sous vide preparations. He also authored Ad Hoc at Home, a book of family-style recipes that received awards from IACP and the James Beard Foundation, in addition to appearing on The New York Times Best Sellers list for six weeks in 2009 and 2010. His most recent project, best-selling cookbook Bouchon Bakery, was on The New York Times Best Sellers list for nearly two months after its release in October 2012.
Valuing genuine collaboration, Keller has successfully assembled an expert staff that shares his philosophy and vision, enabling him to concentrate on his many varied interests, including his Napa Valley wine label Modicum and biannual lifestyle magazine Finesse. His relationship with All-Clad Metalcrafters is more than a decade-old, and includes collaborations such as the All-Clad Copper Core, All-Clad Bocuse d'Or Cookware and the All-Clad TK collection. Together with restaurant designer Adam D. Tihany, he developed K + T, a collection of silver halloware and cocktailware for Christofle Silversmiths. His collaboration with Raynaud and the design firm Level has led to a sophisticated collection of white porcelain dinnerware called Hommage. He also consulted on the films Spanglish and Ratatouille, the latter winning the 2007 "Best Animated Feature Film" category at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.
In August 2011, in collaboration with Lena Kwak, then the research and development chef of The French Laundry, Keller launched Cup4Cup, or "cup for cup," a gluten-free flour blend that substitutes for all-purpose flour in home recipes. Distributed nationally at retailers like Whole Foods, Wegmans, Williams Sonoma and at Bouchon Bakery locations, Cup4Cup provides an alternative new ingredient to home cooks nationwide and continues Keller's legacy of setting industry standards. In addition to the multi-purpose flour, new products include a pancake & waffle mix, brownie mix and pizza mix. On the horizon, Keller and Kwak will launch nutrient-dense, gluten-free baking mixes, as well as ready-to-eat snacks.
In addition to the international and national acclaim Keller's fine dining and casual dining restaurants consistently receive, including seven stars in the 2013 Michelin Guide, Keller's personal influence on the culinary world has placed him among the most decorated chefs in the world. In 2001, Keller was named "America's Best Chef" by Time magazine. In 2003, Johnson & Wales University conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Culinary Arts for his contributions to the profession. He is consistently recognized by respected media outlets, the James Beard Foundation and The Culinary Institute of America, which honored him in 2013 with "TK Day at the CIA" – a day dedicated to culinary curricula of America.
In 2008, at the behest of Chef Paul Bocuse, Keller, along with chefs Daniel Boulud and Jerome Bocuse, established the Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation, where he currently serves as president. The Foundation is devoted to inspiring culinary excellence in young professionals and preserving the traditions and quality of classic cuisine in America. On behalf of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chef Paul Bocuse presented Keller as a Chevalier of The French Legion of Honor in 2011 in recognition of his lifelong commitment to the traditions of French cuisine and his role in elevating cooking in America.
In 2010 he was elected to the CIA's Board of Trustees, contributing his unique perspective and leadership to furthering the school's educational mission.
During the summer of 2013, Keller opened his first retail store in Yountville, offering an array of hand selected kitchen tools, apparel, gifts and accessories. As with Keller's menus, the product selection changes seasonally but focuses on chef's tools, garden and pantry essentials and restaurant keepsakes.
Q: You've influenced countless chefs; who was someone you learned from when you were first starting out? What did s/he teach you?
A: There are so many different people. All of us are influenced by all aspects of whatever professions we're in. When I started cooking, I was reading books and magazines – that was a big part of my exposure. Gourmet, Food & Wine and then Cook's Magazine in the early '80s and Food Arts later that same decade.
But really, the person who most influenced me was my mother. The things you learn at home are what's important: work ethics, paying attention, details, efficiency, keeping things clean and organized. My mother was the first and most important person in terms of my success in my career.
My brother Joseph was my first mentor. When I was starting out, he had already been cooking for several years and taught me things like how to make an omelette, broil a steak, roast a prime rib and blanch green beans.
Finally, Roland Henin became my professional mentor. He taught me the importance of cooking, which is to nurture people. That's the real reason we cook. Those three people were the most influential, but of course there were countless others as well.