lunch at the french laundry

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I’m reveling in bliss for having eaten a symphony of stars and finally having taken a bite out of the one perhaps most challenging to reach in the constellation. The French Laundry is lauded with international accolades including landing on many Best and Top Restaurants lists, is a James Beard Foundation recipient, and has garnered three Michelin Stars, defined as a restaurant reflecting “exceptional cuisine and worthy of a special journey”. There wasn’t a special occasion on the calendar to celebrate that sent me on a long drive up to Yountville in Napa Valley. Just an impromptu chance for my taste buds to celebrate, and a ‘carpe diem’ opportunity not to miss. For a gastronome, arriving at The French Laundry is like reaching the pinnacle of a trip. But I’m fortunate to say that the journey does not end here, there is far more cuisine, from the simple to the exotic, to go on to explore. For someone with a deep interest in gastronomy and passionate about the intersection of food, history, and culture, indulging in haute cuisine now and again is gratifying. The experience doesn’t transcend eating a meal where the recipes for the dishes have been passed on from generation to generation for example, nor does it even surpass eating something simple yet sublime. But venturing into one of the distinguished establishments of the Les Grandes Tables du Monde is an adventure and ultimately an experience. For a moment (or perhaps several hours) I was fortunate to experience The French Laundry and step into the world of world-renowned Chef Thomas Keller.

Photos du Jour | Step inside, sit back, sip some champagne and wine, and enjoy a parade of dishes from the kitchen – a tasting menu and feast for the eyes, then a taste of the kitchen itself.

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So often art on a plate is an intimate experience relished for only a few moments, then left to memory. In the food world, there’s currently a debate whether diners should or should not take pictures of their food, and some restauranteurs and chefs feel camera-enabled smartphones (such as the iPhone) is intruding on the dining experience. This sentiment may also be felt by other guests at the table or guests at nearby tables. Some chefs are also concerned the quality of the pictures being snapped may misrepresent the dishes that are being served. Being aware of the debate, prior to taking these photos, I did out of courtesy ask the staff if it was acceptable to take pictures, and they in fact encouraged it.

While I would be delighted to know the images are enticing and whet your appetite, documenting my dishes is foremost a way for me to capture a moment I hope to look back on. Relevant to yumivore, to quote Thomas Keller: “I think that you’ve got to make something that pleases you and hope that other people feel the same way.” So often these carefully crafted plates are lost after being devoured, and all that remains are just a few memories of the experience. Perhaps this is by design and the way fine dining is meant to be. Documenting dishes can serve though as not only a way to capture a personal experience but also a way to reflect on what we as a society are currently eating or indulging in, and with a changing landscape, our foods may very well be quite different in the years ahead. So too our philosophy may change (or even mine) regarding taking pictures while dining.

There are many more interesting debates taking place in the food world today, some hot topics include sustainability, the “tyranny” of the tasting menu, or even fine dining making a comeback. Some of these topics are very relevant to Chef Keller. There’s too much fodder to cover in one sitting but it all makes great food for thought. I’ll end with a thought from the chef:

“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 toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.” -Chef Thomas Keller

Enjoy more yum, would love to see you on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yumivores
And leave a note, I appreciate them all!

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10 Responses to lunch at the french laundry

  1. Chandra Achberger March 22, 2013 at 2:40 am #

    These are beautiful images and lovely post. Someday I will get to The French Laundry. Thank you for bringing us along on this wonderful experience.

  2. yumivore March 22, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    Many thanks for the lovely note Chandra! The French Laundry no doubt is an experience. Enjoying your beautiful photography, delighted we connected!

  3. Deb March 23, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    A tad jealous Orly! What a great time and impeccable meal! The French Laundry is on my list of restaurants that I must visit!

  4. Beth (OMG! Yummy) March 24, 2013 at 9:17 pm #

    A terrific post Orly – especially the discussion of food photography at the end. I had an amazing experience at the French Laundry several years back, before i was blogging and considered taking pictures of food. I truly regret not having an image of each dish. But as you say, the experience as a whole is indelibly marked in my mind regardless. And that is because of Chef Keller’s attention to detail in each element of running a restaurant.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  5. Martin D. Redmond March 26, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Amazing photos Orly. I’ve never been to French Laundry, but your images make me feel like I have! French Laundry has been off my list…now it’s back on!

  6. yumivore March 26, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    It was an incredible experience … but admittedly, I don’t think I’m able to eat that much food in one sitting anymore! Nonetheless, one thing now off my list… and do hope you get to try it!

  7. yumivore March 26, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    My pleasure Beth! Thanks for stopping by for a bite. The attention to detail was quite impressive, and it was lovely to try dishes that I wouldn’t otherwise prepare in my own kitchen.

  8. yumivore March 26, 2013 at 11:06 pm #

    Thanks for the note Martin! Would love to hear details why it was off the list. It was on mine for a long time; glad I experienced though, despite the photos, not sure I would tout it over some other great restaurants closer to our neck of the woods; we do have haute cuisine close to home for those special occasions. Looking forward to connecting over lunch soon!

  9. Jennifer @ Revel Kitchen April 10, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    Hi Orly!

    What a lovely post that makes me feel wistful about the French Laundry! The photos bring us along on every course. It is far, far too much food (I left light-headed), but I do appreciate, at least from my own experience there, that they were ready and waiting to serve as much thoughtful and carefully prepared food as you could possibly indulge in.

    I had the butter poached lobster, too. If you have the French Laundry cookbook, the recipe is there, and it’s to die for!

    How did you get into the kitchen? You must be a smooth talker :)!

    Jennifer

  10. yumivore April 10, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    Hi Jennifer, thanks for dropping by! Delighted to find your note. I also left the restaurant feeling delirious, I honestly wanted to walk all the way back home after that! They mentioned their poached lobster is a signature dish, I’ll have to peek at your copy of the book if feeling up for the recipe (or maybe something you can whip one of these days for a girls night out or in!). As for the kitchen, I’ll just say that was enjoyable. Cheers!