This blog posting by Rick Smilow, president of ICE, is the second of two posts on Chef Thomas Keller’s September 7 lecture. Culinary Relations Manager, Virgina Monaco wrote the first. Keller came to ICE for many reasons and one of these was his long time friendship with ICE Chef and Instructor Chris Gesualdi. Thomas and Chris worked and cooked together at three NYC restaurants in the 80’s: La Reserve, Raphael and Rakel.
On Friday evening September 7, ICE hosted Thomas Keller, one of Americas most admired and influential chefs. Keller, most known as the chef and owner of The French Laundry and Per Se, addressed over 100 ICE students, alumni and staff for 90 minutes before signing books – nearly 100 of them!
He covered a wide range of topics and answered a series of questions that students had submitted in advance.
One of the student’s questions dealt with inspiration and where it comes from. Chef Keller said it happens rarely, and that you have to be ready for it, as you don’t know in advance that it will happen. He wryly observed that an artist, a musician, a poet and a chef could be walking down the street together and each see a leaf fall. From that, each would be inspired differently. As a real life anecdote, Keller said that his signature salmon cornet appetizer was inspired many years ago, by a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cone standing rack.
On the subject of what he looks for when hiring new employees, Keller answered that people expect the answer to be passion, but the actual answer is desire. He went on to explain that he knows that passion is something that ebbs and flows, but desire is something that you can bring to work every day.
Speaking about what his goals are for the customer experience in each of his restaurants, Chef Keller said that he wants to make sure each of his guests leaves with a great memory of the dining experience and that memory defines success.
Keller is widely known for his commitment, interest and dedication to using the finest ingredients. Sometimes those ingredients are local, and sometimes not. But he pointed out that sustainability has various meanings and dimensions. So when his Napa Valley restaurants source butter from Orwell, Vermont or lobsters from Stonington, Maine, the product is not literally local, but he happily knows that he is helping small producers sustain their lifestyle and the economics of their own rural community.
Talking about the future, he said that one of his driving forces now, was what he called the next generation. That means that he, and his top staff, spend a lot of time training and mentoring. Keller said he thinks it is critical that the younger generations in his kitchens have the confidence and encouragement to collaborate.