Thomas Keller, the U.S. chef who holds a total of seven Michelin stars for the French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon, is in discussions about opening a pop-up restaurant at Harrods store in London later this year.
“We’re still talking to Harrods: Nothing has been decided yet,” Keller, 55, said in an interview. “The most important thing is that you represent the kind of thing you do at home. Cooking’s a simple equation: It’s about ingredients and technique. So if I’m coming here with my techniques to use the ingredients that are available in this country, then we’re missing half of the equation, and I don’t want to do that.
“I don’t know what we’d call it,” he said. “Is it the French Laundry or is it Thomas Keller, or do we do Per Se/the French Laundry? Do we add Bouchon to the mix? Is there a bakery aspect? Is there a boutique? I design for Christofle. I design for Raynaud. I endorse All-Clad. I’ve written five books. We make our own wine. So there’s a lot of collateral opportunity as well.
“I’m not going to push it. If we can’t do it in a way that’s going to represent Harrods and Thomas Keller to the level that we both feel is going to reflect the integrity of what we do, there’s no point in doing it, is there? If we don’t do it this year, it’s not like we have to rush it for any reason.”
(In response to a query from Bloomberg, Harrods said in an e-mailed statement: “We are exploring a number of exciting opportunities and promotions for Harrods restaurants this year but have no confirmed plans with Thomas Keller at this stage.”)
The possibility of such collaboration was reported earlier on the website http://www.bighospitality.co.uk/.
Keller, who first visited the U.K. in 1999, said he was impressed with the development of the London restaurant scene and the emergence of a new generation of chefs that can be traced back to Albert and Michel Roux, founders of Le Gavroche.
“The Roux brothers were really the beginning of recognition, at least for me, and that transitioned to Marco Pierre White and then, of course, Gordon (Ramsay) and Heston (Blumenthal). And then you have all the young chefs that have worked for those chefs going out there. Jason (Atherton) is the perfect example of that.” Atherton, a Ramsay protege, last month opened his own venue, Pollen Street Social.
“I’m not that close with Jason but it just makes you proud to see a young chef do the same things that you did as a young chef and see that effort succeed in the realization of the restaurant,” Keller said. “That’s an extraordinary thing.”
Keller was casually dressed in a white T-shirt, black jacket and jeans. He was charming and engaging as we talked in Bar Boulud, the London brasserie of his friend Daniel Boulud. The previous time we met was in Lyon, France, when both men were leading the U.S. team in the final of the Bocuse d’Or culinary competition. Boulud stopped by to say hello this time, too.
Keller says that he was in discussions with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group’s restaurant director, David Nicholls, about opening a restaurant in the space now occupied by Bar Boulud before Boulud came on board.
“For me, going international has always been a big question, and not one that I’ve answered yet,” he said.
It would be great if Keller were to open his own restaurant in London, I ventured. He laughed.
“Great for who?” he asked. “Every chef gets into that kind of rationale about pleasing everybody. That’s how we’re wired. We want to give you what you want. But at some point in your life you have to say, ‘OK, wait a minute, I have to maybe be a little bit more responsible to me.’
Round of Golf
“I mean, I went out to Wentworth yesterday because I really wanted to. I could have been doing other things for the restaurant or for you or for anybody, but I said, ‘You know what, I just want to take four or five hours for myself and play a round of golf in a country where I’ve never played golf before.’ And it was splendid to walk around the countryside and see the azaleas blooming, the trees.
“It’s not that I don’t enjoy being a chef and a restaurateur,” Keller says. “It’s a compelling thing to do and satisfying and gratifying on so many levels, but you start to realize that you’re not 35 years old anymore and you’re not immortal, and the time’s going to come -- sooner than later -- when we’re going to have to slow down anyway because the physical activity that’s going to be required to do anything that we want to do is not going to be there.”
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)