My Life In Food: Thomas Keller

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Thomas Keller is the chef/patron of the three-Michelin-starred The French Laundry in California. Last week he ran a pop-up version of the restaurant at Harrods in London.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

I'm not really into kitchen gadgets, they just tend to clutter the place up. What I have in my kitchen, I use. What couldn't I live without? I do have some hi-tech stuff like an immersion circulator that's always in use. But my most used tool is my Japanese Mac knife, which is bevelled on both sides, unusual for a Japanese knife.

If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

If I was at home in California and not at work (most days I'm in the kitchen or office from 9am to 1am), I might go down to the farmers market in Petaluma. I'd pick up a whole chicken, season it lightly with salt and pepper, then roast it. I'd also get some fresh green salad leaves to serve the chicken with. If I was at work, I'd indulge in the great privilege of being a chef – shopping in the restaurant's fridges.

What do you eat for comfort?

I have two comfort foods, both from childhood. Roast chicken figures firmly in my memories, so I like cooking and eating that. But I also gravitate towards chocolate-chip cookies pretty strongly. My mother would always have them around, sometimes she'd baked them or sometimes they'd just be from the store but they were always pleasant.

If you could eat only bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

Potatoes, definitely. When I worked in Paris in the early 1980s, I used to really enjoy going to the market for a fresh demi-baguette in the morning. But potatoes are so much more versatile; you can have more fun with them. I'd go for an Idaho, which is a good baker, it can be puréed or turned into French fries.

What's your desert island recipe?

My chickpea hummus. I cook some chickpeas in water until they're just softening. Then I drain them and add a few anchovies, not so many that you can taste them strongly but enough to give that extra dimension.

Next I add a little lemon juice and a dash of extra-virgin olive oil, I particularly like Manni's. Then I add a few pimento peppers and purée it. I have it with quinoa and vegetables after exercising.

What's your favourite cookbook?

Ma Gastronomie by Fernand Point, without doubt. I first came across it in 1977. A chef called Roland Henin, who became my mentor, gave it to me while I was working for him at the Dunes Club in Rhode Island. It's not a cookbook as you'd know it, it doesn't have set recipes – instead it has narratives about dishes. It teaches you to interpret recipes in your own style.

Who taught you to cook?

There are so many people. My brother Joseph, who was a cook in a French restaurant, was certainly the first. He taught me the basics, how to make the hollandaise sauce and things like that. But Roland Henin was important, too. He taught me that chefs are, in a way, nurturers – people who want to make others happy, which is a really important lesson.

What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?

I always say the same thing: be patient. When you're starting out you always want to be further along than you are. But take time to master the basics, learn how to properly use a kitchen knife and make a hollandaise sauce. Understand that before you can do something new, you need to get a hold of the fundamentals of cooking. After all, good cooking is, in part, about repetitive tasks done well.

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