photo by Lorna Yee
I’m sure many of us have a Thomas Keller story, or at the very least, a favorite Keller recipe. It’s hard to be a lover of good food and cooking without being a fan of this illustrious chef. When I first made the small leap in college from weekend baker to slightly-more-serious home cook—it was The French Laundry Cookbook that inspired me with its glorious, full-page photographs of wildly complicated, multi-day recipes. And when I quickly realized my grocery budget couldn’t sustain more than a few FL recipes on the rare special occasion, I cooked my way through the more accessible Bouchon cookbook.
Like many grads in their early 20s, my first year out of school was a pivotal turning point in my life. I wasn’t sure what sort of career I wanted to pursue. I ended a five-year relationship and moved back in with my parents. In the midst of upheaval, I found comfort in reading about chef Keller's restaurant in Yountville--a restaurant many still regard as the best in America. So, I started saving. By the time a friend called to say she had secured a reservation in early 2006, I had squirreled away enough for an airplane ticket, and dinner. And because we had an extra seat at the table, I extended the invitation to a guy I’d only recently met two weeks before—my now-husband, Henry. It was, on all accounts, a wonderful weekend. Henry surprised me on our third date by having the menu framed, with the signature FL clothespin mounted on the bottom. This menu has hung in our kitchen for the past three and half years.
When I walked into Bastille last night for the Thomas Keller Cooks and Books event, I brought my framed menu along, with the backing carefully pried open so chef Keller could sign it. Dare I say that this distinguished, exacting gentleman—this stratospheric chef—cracked a bit of a smile when I withdrew the frame from under the table, and he recognized what lay inside?
The food last night—prepared by Bastille’s team, inspired by recipes from his newest restaurant, Ad Hoc, was simple and satisfying. There were crab cakes during the cocktail hour, plates of mini Maine lobster rolls—and my favorite of the trio—rich, deeply flavored braised oxtail and mushroom crostini. From then, we moved onto seared scallops with a tangy-sweet curried cauliflower salad, accented by sweet, wine-steeped raisins, buttery pine nuts, and the salty brininess of black olives. A wild mushroom and chilled leek salad served as a bracing palate refresher before we dug into the pork belly, each crisp-skinned piece resting atop a soft tangy of caramelized cabbage. Spoon tender short ribs, glazed with red wine followed. Coffee was poured, and then heaped platters of sugar-dusted apple fritters with vanilla-flecked apple butter, and ice-cream shortbread sandwiches made their way to the tables. The meal was a wonderful introduction to the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook we all received at the end of the evening. I can’t wait for Henry and I to start cooking from it together, in our kitchen where our signed menu hangs once again—and will hang always—as a sweet reminder of a life-changing weekend a few years ago.
For more information on upcoming Cooks and Books events.events, please visit www.kimricketts.com
Do you have a Thomas Keller story of your own? Or a favorite Thomas Keller recipe? I'd love to know--please feel free to share them in the comments section!