You saw our slideshow of the dinner honoring Thomas Keller at The Bristol, but earlier that same day he appeared at Balena for a book launch and signing event featuring his new book Bouchon Bakery. Along the way he and coauthor Sebastien Rouxel participated in a panel discussion led by John Carroll of CS and Modern Luxury— though "led" is hardly the word for the freewheeling and at times downright anarchic discussion, which quickly escaped Carroll's control and was dominated by Keller, interspersed with comments from the audience. At times we felt like jumping up to say "Preach, Rev. Keller!" as his monologues (read: thoughtful and thorough responses to questions) were littered with nuggets of professional wisdom and swear words every now and then. Keller and Rouxel discussed creativity, inspiration, desire, passion, how they differ from one another, but in often witty ways. Here are some of the best bits from the discussion.
• "You're not a pastry chef, so what was it like for a savory chef to collaborate on a pastry book, and what was that process like?" Well it was very easy because I didn't have anything to do. It's probably the easiest book I've ever written.
• "You have five bakeries now, soon to be six. You're opening in Las Vegas, right? Is the bakery business a good business to be in?"
Keller: Of course it is!
Audience member: Open in Chicago!
Rouxel: It's cold!
Keller: New York's cold.
Rouxel: Yeah, but Chicago's freezing! But I think it is a good business...there's a big interest in baking and bakeries because everyone wants to eat cookies!
• "So what is your favorite dish you ever made?" Again that's an interesting question. I think that you talk about Daniel [Boulud]'s dish being the short ribs, but if you ask Daniel what his signature dish is he'd say that his signature dish is not defined by us, but by our guests. I can tell you right now Daniel Boulud does not think his short ribs are his signature dish. People love that dish, but he wishes he were known for many other things.
• "French Laundry, Per Se. Favorite desserts." You're really on this favorite thing, aren't you? There are no favorites! It's impossible to have a favorite, nor should I have a favorite because if I have a favorite, I'm diminishing my focus on other things that are as important. Favorite to me is really, you know, what ignites excitement, and that changes.
• "You have one dessert to eat, what is it gonna be? What is it today? What are you in the mood for?" That idea has been put out there for a long time— what's your last meal? Really? Does anyone really care? Now we wanna take you guys' questions. Two things you can't ask about: favorites and last meal.
• On creativity: People think I created the coronet. That's bullshit! It's an ice cream cone, people! Whoever first did the ice cream cone, believe me, that person was inspired by something else. Who gives a shit if you thought of it first? The fact is they gave it to you to think about.
• On explaining the Bocuse d'Or: It's much like the Olympics. There's a gold medal, a silver medal and a bronze. He's a bit egotistical so it's actually a statue of him. But who cares? It's Paul Bocuse!
• On next steps in life: Every interview I have a journalist who asks me "what are you doing next?" 'What am I doing next?!' I just wanna smack 'em. Why do I have to be doing something next?? Isn't what I'm doing now enough for you??
• On pleasing himself and guests: If I cook some fish and you come to the kitchen and tell me "This is the most amazing piece of fish I've ever eaten," you're just a schmuck. No. I could've done better! On the other hand, if I cook a perfect piece of fish and you say, "Thomas, you know you missed it on this one," well, you know, you're still a schmuck.