Thomas Keller on the Brutal Per Se Review: ‘It Was Devastating’

Thomas Keller is ready to talk. Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images

It looks like Thomas Keller might be kicking off something of a comeback tour: The highly regarded chef gets the profile treatment in the most recent issue of Town & Country and, for the first time, speaks publicly about New York Times critic Pete Wells’s two-star review of Per Se, telling the magazine that the criticism, and the ensuing reaction, was “devastating.”

Like everyone else, Keller was shocked that his staff didn’t recognize Wells, if not as a critic, certainly because he would have been the same customer eating multiple meals in the type of restaurant that prides itself on taking special care of returning diners. In the end, Keller admits “maybe we were complacent” and “as a team we were a little bit too arrogant.” So, they’re rethinking things a bit. As the restaurant’s chef de cuisine tells writer Gabe Ulla, “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

Keller doesn’t expect a re-review by Wells anytime soon, so the restaurant’s staff is stuck with its two-star status for now. Instead, the chef says, the new goal is to blow customers away so much that they leave asking, “‘What the hell was [Wells] talking about?’”

Thomas Keller Calls the Brutal Per Se Review ‘Devastating’