Thomas Keller is the only American-born chef in the world to be awarded multiple Michelin star ratings for two different restaurants (Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, n.d.). In 2005 he received one for his New York Restaurant Per Se and in 2006, he received the same award for his Bay Area restaurant French Laundry. He has received numerous other recognitions and accolades, including: The first male chef to be given the Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor award (which is the highest decoration in France), Culinary Institute of America “Chef of the Year,” Award, James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Chef,” and “Outstanding Restaurateur,” and an induction into the Culinary Hall of Fame. Like most successful chefs, Keller has expanded himself as a chef into an entrepreneur and restaurateur as well, which (along with his exquisite culinary skills and his attention to detail) is what has made him into the successful man he is today.
Keller owns a small chain of bakeries and bistros called Bouchon, and a casual dining restaurant that serves comfort food called ad hoc (Wikipedia, 2014). Not long after opening French Laundry, Keller also opened a small olive oil company called EVO to distribute his line of Provencal-style olive oils and red wine vinegars. He also helped design (and recently started marketing) a line of signature white porcelain dinnerware by Raynaud called Hommage Point and hollow silverware by Christofe. He as also attached his name to a set of signature knives made by MAC. In 2013, he opened a retail store in Yountsville, CA, where he sells a variety of his kitchen tools, apparel, and gifts. Additionally, he has made a name for himself in the publishing industry, including appearances in a few films. He is most known for his cookbooks, The French Laundry Cookbook (for which he received five awards) and The Bouchon Cookbook. He also contributed to a number other books by writing sections or editing. He was featured in the films Ratatouille, Spanglish, and Pixar. Finally, Keller is the president of the Bocuse d’Or U.S. team, which is often referred to as the “culinary equivalent of the Olympic games” (Wikipedia, 2014). In 2012, Keller stated that he is stepping away from the kitchen in order to pursue mentoring and his private life.
Keller began his career at a young age, working alongside his mother in a Palm Beach restaurant that she managed (Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, n.d.). He often stepped in when her staff was sick. He then worked at the Palm Beach Yacht club as a dishwasher, working his way up to cook. He is said to have found his passion for cooking there, where he began perfecting his hollandaise sauce (Wikipedia, 2014). He later relocated to France in 1983 and worked under several famous Michelin star-rated chefs (e.g., Guy Savoy and Taillevent). In 1986, he opened his first French fine dining restaurant Rakel in New York City, but after the stock market crash, his restaurant suffered, so he left to California, where he eventually became owner of The French Laundry in 1994 (Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, n.d.). He became engaged to his long-time girlfriend and former manager of The French Laundry in 2009.
Taken from his own website, Keller’s philosophy is clearly more than just about entrepreneurship or even food: “When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving towards perfection becomes clear: To make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.” Keller is known for the importance he places on ambiance and customer service. In a recent article from the San Francisco Gate, the author Amanda Gold describes Keller as a true leader and someone who always keeps the kitchen spotless Gold, 2014). Along with a daily changing menu, a 9-course tasting menu, and an “earth to the table” philosophy, Thomas Keller has grown to become one of the most acclaimed and respected chefs in the world.