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Thomas Keller Q&A


How would you describe your golf game? Mediocre. That said, there are moments I have brilliant shots and moments I have embarrassing shots. And one thing I certainly do enjoy about the game is the opportunity to continually improve. One of my basic core values that I live by is that I’m continually trying to improve myself day in and day out. •••


As the only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star Michelin ratings since the guide’s inception in 1900, THOMAS KELLER is the gold standard in his profession. The French Laundry in Yountville and Per Se in New York are among the world’s best restaurants offer- ing nine-course tasting menus that change daily with no ingredient repeated. The four-hour meals (or experiences as he would say) have redefi ned fi ne dining in the U.S. Keller operates six other restau- rants including Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc in Napa. There are not many typical days for the 56-year-old, but his high personal standards keep him in- timately involved in operational meetings and in and out of the kitchen throughout the evening un- til work is fi nished after midnight. The avid golfer tries to fi nd ample time to hit the links but his busy schedule frequently inter- feres. Candid and down-to-earth, the California native recently sat down to discuss his love of golf, his career and a simple roasted chick- en recipe. –Hilary Heieck


How often do you play? It’s very sporadic. Sometimes I’ll get to play three days in a row and then I’ll go two months without playing. Certainly my work and my restaurants take precedence in everything I do. But there are those moments if I’m traveling or if I can get a couple of days off and just be a golfer, getting in as much as I can. •••


Any nerves on the fi rst tee? Not really. The only place I get a little nervous is at Riviera because there’s always a starter who announces you— “Teeing off at Riviera Country Club is Thomas Keller,” and you go, “Why’d you say that?” But at the same time I love the tradition. I think it’s fabulous that they have a person there in a suit announcing who’s teeing off. Pretty cool, but it does intimidate you a little bit. •••


Who comprises your dream four- some? That’s such a hard question, probably close friends. Corey Lee, who I have played with the most, he is the chef de cuisine (at French Laundry). Josh Algra, VP for Taylor- Made and a wonderful guy and then I think someone like Phil Mickelson. •••


Best golf tip you have received? Swing the club like a baseball bat,


46 / NCGA.ORG / WINTER 2012


which I never heard until a year ago. It made a lot of sense. Everybody told me not swing it like a baseball bat but it turned out to be really good advice. •••


Most of our readers won’t have the opportunity to dine at French Laundry; can you explain what that experience is like? It’s an experience like golf, it requires a commitment. The commitment is to take the time to be with people that you really like or people you want to get to know because you’re with them for three or four hours, much like a round of golf. With golf you cannot conduct small talk for four hours; the small talk lasts for the fi rst couple of holes but then you really have to get involved with someone to get to know them. I think of dinner at the French Laundry in the same way, where it requires a commitment. A round of golf or eating at the


French Laundry is not about the food or wine, but about the experience. I think that’s the most important thing to realize. It’s about coming here and having a wonderful experience where you walk away with a great memory —that’s what dinner at the French Laundry for me means. •••


How has the economy affected French Laundry and Per Se, especially given the New York fi nancial situation? In any economic climate what rises to the top in any sector is quality. If you are in a quality-driven business with a quality- driven philosophy and you give value for what you’re doing, then I think you are going to be successful. I really think we’re driven by quality and we’re driven by value. And whatever price someone is paying, it still has to


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