Before the days of Amazon and Kindle, staring up to the top shelf in a used book store in Wardour Street is not the obvious place to happen upon a gastronomic epiphany. It may also have you questioning the motives and behaviour of the author!
However, sure enough, after the gesturing’s of the shop’s owner, I spotted it. Sandwiched between pornography (and what counts as pornography in Soho, there is a market for everything, it appears) and Mario Testino’s glamorous hardback edition of his latest collection of black and white photography.
Seven percent of my monthly salary, 30% of my disposable income. Like 'rocking horse shit' the infamous David Dempsey later told me, after trying to buy it off me. I was not sure whether to believe him, he was, alas, always high on cocaine.
The French Laundry Cookbook - Thomas Keller …Mais attendez, il est en Français! (But wait, it’s in French!)
Merde! Excuse my French.
My attempts at conversational French are stronger than my grammar. I often swear in the language, according to numerous studies it's a sign of intelligence, not that that ever placates my mother. I should perhaps be more creative and articulate with my language. Fuck, sorry, I digress. Back to the narrative.
I couldn't speak French. This was a French edition. So like many of the other books in the shop, I would be purchasing it (initially, anyway) to just look at the pictures!
Having previously overheard both Gordon and Mark (the head chef at Royal Hospital Road), discuss The French Laundry in great detail, and how to copy (sorry emulate) the canapés after a visit, this became of great fascination to me.
Why two of Britain’s greatest chefs, who I believed at the time, pretty much knew everything (I always had a huge respect for all my head chefs over the years) were so animated by Thomas and his book, I didn’t know. But sure enough ‘French Laundry’, Keller’s first book, really would open my eyes.
So after parting with £60 of the hardest earnt money within London’s kitchens, courtesy of Gordon Ramsey's Royal Hospital Road. It was mine.
In 2004, I was lucky enough to witness Thomas' food first hand at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, as he had paid Raymond Blanc a visit. I was in awe.
Ever since then, I have greatly desired to make a trip to America and experience the Keller cuisine in one of his own restaurants. The idea of stumping up the costs of flights, hotels and of course the meal itself may seem extravagant simply for dinner. But in no way did this ever deter me.
Per Se, Thomas’ second restaurant, also opened in 2004, a sort of inner-city version of The French laundry. A stone’s throw from Broadway and Central Park, Per Se had no choice but to be amazing, it would be serving New Yorkers! In a city already full of Michelin-starred outlets, this late-comer to the party had to win over a notoriously snotty and demanding population. It passed, and continues do to so, with flying colours.
After a failed attempt (and a missed voicemail) to secure a reservation upon my last visit to NYC in 2014 – 16 months later my dreams have been realised!
You're probably now expecting a restaurant review -- sorry -- but no.
My thoughts are merely my own and inconsequential. I refuse to combine my opinion with a 14-year ambition to eat at one of Thomas’ restaurants. It’s an experience and it should remain just that.
Worse, I could post photos of the dishes, stealing the intellectual property of an artist without him benefiting. Allowing other chefs to mimic/copy/emulate his approach. Not a chance!
I would simply advise you to try and eat there, and then to make up your own mind. Perhaps retell the story that your interest was initially piqued by reading a random blog from a random 'cook' in a random part of Cornwall.
I hope you get a booking, a lot quicker than I did.