Per Se might have won for Outstanding Service at last night’s James Beard Awards, but at Thomas Keller’s celebratory after-party, we caught up with him to talk junk food and J.Lo, not fine dining and fancy awards.
Do you do normal things like lie around and watch brainless TV?
Yes! I watch Idol … that counts, right? This is my first year being really into it. I’m friends with Simon Fuller, so I gave it a shot. Now I have a whole system around it. I DVR each episode so that I can fast-forward through Randy Jackson, J.Lo, and Steven what’s-his-name, and then I just watch the singers. It’s all about the performances, right?
Any other TV addictions we need to know about?
Idol, Grey’s Anatomy … definitely Entourage and SNL. Those are my shows.
Do you ever eat cheapo candy, like Milk Duds, for example?
Well, I do eat M&Ms;, but only when I mix them with popcorn at the movies. I’m a big sweet-and-salty guy. If I’m at a supermarket and just want to indulge, I’ll get Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Those are my favorites. You’ll see a version of them at Bouchon. There’s a Peppermint Patty type of thing at Bouchon, too. Everything at Bouchon is there because it’s the stuff I crave.
Describe the last time you went to McDonald’s …
Oh wow, that was a long time ago. I can’t even remember. But I grew up with McDonald’s, and then we upgraded to Burger King, which was exciting. And then, of course, I discovered In-N-Out, and it stopped there for me.
Is that why there are always rumors that you’re opening a burger joint?
I thought of doing that many years ago, but it’s over now. Old news! I’m going to open an ice-cream shop next to Bouchon, but that’s not the same as a restaurant. That’s no big deal. You buy a machine and get the right staff. Pure relaxation compared to the rest.
Ever wake up wanting to just throw in the towel and move to Anguilla?
Sometimes I wake up and just wish I were a cook at the French Laundry. You know, I wish I were just cooking full-time in a kitchen somewhere. But then again, I’m 55 now, I’m not 35, and that kind of work isn’t for a guy my age. I’m lucky that now I can evolve with a restaurant in other ways and find new things to do with myself. I think of other generations of great chefs where they simply got too old to put in the hours in the kitchen and then, it just stopped for them. That makes me sad, you know?
Is “burn out” in your vocabulary?
No, not at all. Never. But people don’t realize how hard it is opening a restaurant. Unless you’ve done it, you really have no idea. It takes everything out of you. People always always want to know what’s next, but it’s not a simple, overnight thing. I love the process, of course, but it takes years; it takes everything you’ve got.