"I love to eat food that I don't know anything about," Thomas Keller told the crowd gathered at the James Beard House yesterday to hear him talk about his cookbook Ad Hoc at Home. He was answering the old chestnut of where he likes to eat while he's in New York, but beyond a specific shout-out to Marea's fusili with red-wine poached octopus and bone marrow, Keller explained that it's not about where he eats, it's about what: "I love going to restaurants like Jean-Georges or Daniel, of course, places I love and cook the kind of food we cook," he explained. "But for me, eating there is a little bit like work. In my mind — and of course I'm never saying this out loud — I'm going, Oh, I would have done it this way, or God, I wish I knew how they did that. But if I go to a Japanese restaurant, or a Korean restaurant, or an Indian restaurant, for me it's about enjoying the experience of being there without thinking about how they did it."
How things are done has been a theme for Keller, particularly since Ad Hoc at Home was published last year. The book has been heralded as his most "accessible" cookbook, a designation with which Keller has some beef. "I'm not really sure what accessibility is," he said. "We have a roast chicken in the Bouchon cookbook, and we have a roast chicken in here, but in Bouchon it's called "poulet rôti" and here it's called "roasted chicken." It's like, you know, which is more intimidating?"
But that's not to say he and his team didn't go a little out of their way to make sure his most recent book had points of entry for the reader who might be put off by the tweezers-and-a-magnifying-glass ethos of his earlier volumes. "We went to town on this one," Keller said of Ad Hoc, noting in particular the cookbook's very last page. "It's me in a Superman cape saying 'Until next time, boys and girls!'" says the famously buttoned-up chef. "I'm not sure why I let that happen, but, you know, when you have two domineering women like [co-author Susie Heller and photographer Deborah Jones] telling you 'Hey, Thomas, that's really cute, you should do it,' you say okay. I realized a long time ago that women are much smarter than men."