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Keller's culinary master classes cook up a storm

Michelin-starred American chef brings experience, philosophy and passion to collaborative events in Beijing and Shanghai, Li Yingxue reports.

By Li Yingxue | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-04-02 07:38
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From left: Three of Thomas Keller's signature dishes — Hass Avocado and Kaluga Queen organic caviar (10 years )"Louie"; Macaroni and cheese; steak and eggs. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In 1979, Thomas Keller was just another cook working for a French chef, not yet dreaming of becoming a professional chef himself. That changed one day when his boss asked him a simple question: "Why do cooks cook?"

Stumped, Keller couldn't muster an answer. "We cook to nurture people," the chef explained. This insight struck a chord with Keller. "Immediately, I understood that I'm a nurturer and I wanted to become a chef," he says.

Fast forward to today, Keller, now 69, has reaped an impressive seven Michelin stars across his celebrated establishments: Per Se in New York and The French Laundry in California have each been honored with three stars, with the additional star gracing the Surf Club Restaurant in Florida.

Beyond his kitchen exploits, Keller's influence has extended into popular culture. He served as a consultant for the 2007 Pixar animated hit, Ratatouille, bringing his expertise to the film by training the producer in his kitchen and creating a special dish for the movie.

In March, he visited China, where he held master classes in Shanghai and Beijing, sharing insight from his illustrious career and his cooking philosophy with young chefs.

Encouraging them to embrace a broader, more global approach to the culinary arts, Keller emphasized the importance of passion and creativity in crafting exquisite dining experiences. His classes sought to inspire the chefs to unleash their creativity, and to paint a vibrant picture of innovation in Chinese cuisine.

Keller shared the six disciplines of his success: organization, efficiency, critical feedback, ritual, repetition and teamwork.

"I learned that when washing dishes when I was 14 years old, but I didn't understand it from a professional point of view then," Keller says, adding that his philosophy of cooking has remained unchanged over the decades, and that the first thing is the ingredients.

No matter whether it's fine dining or casual dining, Keller says that chefs look for the best ingredients they can find and then their skill dictates the quality of the results.

Inspired by his anecdotes, the chefs attending the master classes eagerly posed thoughtful questions, actively engaging in the learning process.

Among them was Wang Shuo, a 33-year-old chef who specializes in Italian cuisine at Tavola in Beijing.

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