This Friday evening, ICE was honored to host A Conversation with Thomas Keller and welcome a true culinary legend to the school. Chef Keller’s awards, stars and accolades are too long to list here (and well worth a google if you are unfamiliar with him). Chef Keller and his iconic French Laundry restaurant came to fame at a time when America was known for fast-food and TV dinners, and to be a chef was to be considered a domestic servant, not a culinary arts professional. Ignoring that reputation, he has set the bar for American cuisine over the last twenty-five years and continues to define the ultimate fine dining experience across the country. He visited ICE to share stories of his experiences, philosophies on food and mentor the next generation of great chefs.
Students and alumni packed the sixth floor in anticipation of pearls of wisdom and words of advise. As I listened to Chef Keller give his thoughts on everything from his definition of sustainability to the importance of making memories, I couldn’t help but think that his advise was extremely wise in its simplicity and brevity. This wasn’t an infomercial claiming that you could be a success overnight if you followed four simple rules. He stressed basic but vital core principles for success – hard work, constant improvement, evolution, collaboration, desire.
There are no shortcuts to success and no secret formulas to revel. His strongest advice to students was to simply try and do just a little bit better than you did the day before. That’s not that hard, is it? With explanations like that, any level of success suddenly seems within anyone’s reach. It’s not always easy-going. Failures are inevitable and easy paths are tempting. Doing it right day after day, year after year, every single time, is much harder than it sounds. I could see that most everyone in that room admired Chef Keller for his deceptively simple devotion to doing it right, taking pride in what you do, and doing it even better tomorrow. Yes, he makes amazing food and yes, we admire his creativity and skill. But what truly inspires is his willingness to work hard, everyday, in order to bring pleasure to others and leave them with the fondest of memories.
My favorite quote of the evening was, “What is greatness if not consistency? Anyone can make one amazing meal. But to make thousands of amazing meals over dozens of years is what makes a truly great chef.”