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.
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