How did a chef whose innovative restaurant in Manhattan failed and who headed west to cook in a downtown LA hotel suddenly emerge in the Napa Valley to create a restaurant to rival the great three-star establishments of rural France? Hard work and outsize talent, most probably. Taking over what had been a good but far simpler restaurant located in a turn-of-the-century stone building surrounded by gardens, chef Thomas Keller approached contemporary American food with classical technique. His French Laundry, with its now-famous blue door, has established new standards for fine dining in this country. Two $270 nine-course tasting menus are devised each day (one traditional and one vegetarian), and no single ingredient is ever repeated throughout the meal. The classic "Oysters and Pearls," pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar, is a perennial favorite, though, and while items like sautéed cod with tamarind-glazed eggplant and tomato chutney might sound simple, the techniques used are anything but. In 2012, Keller and The French Laundry received a coveted AAA Five Diamond Award, just another honor to add to the pile.
Click here to watch the Daily Meal’s “At the Chef’s Table” video interview with Chef Thomas Keller. — Arthur Bovino