Why was Thomas Keller himself catering the announcement of a new art project by Jeff Koons at the artist’s studio last night? “BMW,” Keller said. “That’s my only connection here. It’s the ultimate driving machine.” The announcement was that Koons would follow in the steps of Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol in painting the seventeenth BMW Art Car. Keller is in town to work with Per Se and head up the team of judges narrowing down sixteen chef teams to the single American representative to the Bocuse d’Or in Paris next year. But really, he said, he’d come to serve mini-BLTs with truffle, frozen foie gras, and cones filled with crème fraîche and topped with raw salmon that night simply because he loves his car (and, well, we’re sure he got some sort of compensation).
The second car the chef ever bought, in 1977, was a 1978 BMW 320i. He restored it three years ago and says “it stays in the garage.” His “everyday car” is a BMW five-series station wagon. Sadly, he has never gone drag racing on the West Side Highway, and as a Californian, doesn’t want to weigh in on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed salt regulation. But he did say that Per Se chef de cuisine, Jonathan Benno, left the building on Friday to start work on his new Lincoln Center restaurant with the Patina Restaurant Group. His replacement is Eli Kaimeh, formerly an executive sous-chef, and Keller seemed completely calm about the change: “Eli has been there since day one. Jonathan has been grooming Eli for the last eighteen months.” Any changes expected? “No, it’s going to be the same exquisite food we’ve always done.”