Monday, October 19, 2015

Thomas Keller Interview

Thomas Keller Imparts Wisdom onto CIA Students
Renowned Chef & Board of Trustee Member

by Sarah Lubitz, Associate Degree in Culinary Arts, from La Papillote 

On October 7th, I had the honor of interviewing Chef Thomas Keller while he was on campus for a board of directors meeting here at CIA. Chef Keller is a chef that often needs little introduction because he work tends to speak for itself. But, it certainly does not hurt to go over his list of accomplishments. Thomas Keller has created many legendary restaurants. He started with his flagship, The French Laundry, in Yountville, California in 1994. Bouchon followed in 1998, and Bouchon Bakery opened a few years later. In February 2004, Keller opened Per Se in New York City. Ad Hoc opened in 2006, the most casual of all of his restaurants.

For most of here at The Culinary, we look to Thomas Keller as a source of inspiration. His career is one that serves as an example of determination, passion, and innovation. When I realized that I had the chance to interview Thomas Keller, I realized that I needed to ask questions that would be beneficial to not only me, but beneficial to all of the students at CIA. My encounter with Chef Keller was one that I will treasure for the rest of my life. He was kind and insightful, and his calm voice and his laughter made me feel less nervous than I felt. (I was a bundle of nerves!) After the interview, he stayed afterwards to get a picture with me and with other students. I still cannot believe that day happened.

Once I had interview Thomas Keller, I discussed my interview with Chef McCue. He casually suggested that I ask some chefs here at The Culinary the same questions that I asked Chef Keller. Curious to see the results of this, I sought out some chef instructors. Those interviews will be featured in the next issue of La Papillote! The following is my interview with Thomas Keller:

Q: What made you decide to partner with CIA?
A: It wasn’t a decision, it was an invitation from Tim Ryan, who holds a position I have a high regard and high respect for, and he’s a very good friend. I think that his vision and determination in regards to the school has been exemplary and forward-thinking, and I was just happy and honored to be invited to be a part of that and, in a small way, contribute my opinion and my expertise in any way that would benefit the school.

Q: What is the most important thing that you have learned that you can pass onto students?
A: That’s a good question, and it’s been asked before, and I always come back to basically the same two words. Patience, first of all—being patient with your career and your education, being in the moment, and not thinking about where you want to be tomorrow. Because, if you think about where you want to be tomorrow today, you’re not going to get there because you need to be thinking about today and what you’re doing today. And, the most important part of that is having patience with yourself, having patience with those around you, having patience with your career so that you are able to learn, so you experience and gain knowledge in the moment so you can actually appreciate your career. Some of the best times of my career were times when I was a young cook cooking on the line. I always wanted to be the sous chef, and then the chef. If you’re always thinking about that, and not necessarily waking up and going, “Wow, I’m in a really good spot right now. I should just really enjoy this moment. Because in a year, or two years, or three years, I want to be that sous chef.” So, be patient. The second word is persistent. I think persistence is really important, and I didn’t live the patient part of it, I learned that. But, I did live the persistence part of that. You can never let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. If you fail, get up and do it again, find a different way, open a different door. Don’t give up on yourself, don’t let anybody diminish your determination, and maintain that commitment to your career, to your life, to your vision.

Q: What advice do you have for dealing with the high stress of this business?
A: You know, it’s something that—I may be strange, or peculiar, or unique—I don’t find [it] stressful. I’ve always said that what we do is—we’re athletes, I’ve said that for decades. I’m still part of this sports franchise, but now I run this sport franchise as opposed to being a player in this sports franchise.

You grow, you’re the rookie, and then you move into being all of these different players, and then you become the franchise player, the guy who everyone looks to. And, then, you can only be that for such a period of time because it’s a physical activity, you can’t be that for your entire life. You better be planning for that next phase of your life. But, it’s just that; it’s a sports franchise. When you look at sports, or if you want to look at the military, the most extraordinary things happen in those situations when? When the pressure is the highest. You see the most extraordinary plays, you see a soldier doing an extraordinary heroic thing at the time when that stress or that pressure is the most intense. I think we live in that kind of environment and, when we’re on the line, and service has begun, those four or five hours, that’s your moment, that’s your game, and, you’ve got to be on it. You have to be able to deal with that kind of pressure and that kind of stress. When it’s the most intense is when you have to pull yourself out and say, “Okay, I’m going to make this play, I’m going to be the hero. I’m going to do it.” I think that’s important, to have that kind of innate desire and determination to realize when those moments are the highest pressure that you can perform at the highest level, and know you can do it, and without knowing how you’re going to do it. You just know that you’re going to do it. You’re going to respond in the way that you need to respond in that moment.

Q: When you have the time and you are at home, what is your favorite thing to cook for your family?

A: Either chicken or steak. Roasted chicken is always my go-to thing. I love it because there are so many different flavors and textures in a roasted chicken, and there are so many different parts. It reminds me of so many wonderful times in my life. Or, just a really good steak on the grill. So those are my go-to things. Simple food, simple salad, simple vegetables.

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