Thomas Keller Wants to Be ‘Taken Seriously By the World’

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Photo: WireImage

With the Bocuse d'Or semifinals completed and French Laundry chef Timothy Hollingsworth tapped to go to Lyon, Thomas Keller had time for a chat yesterday. The renowned bicoastal chef is also the president of the USA Committee for the Bocuse d'Or and has even donated his father's old house in Yountville, California, to be the training center. We talked to Keller about Hollingsworth, his training regimen, and the importance of a victory at the Bocuse d'Or for American chefs. Later today, we'll publish part two of our talk with Keller.

Timothy Hollingsworth, who will represent the U.S. at the Bocuse d’Or, works for you at French Laundry.
Timmy has been with us seven years. Maybe a little longer. He came in as a commis, and has worked his way up through the different stations. He became a sous-chef about two years ago, and has been working in that position overseeing the restaurant, helping develop the menus, ordering. He continues to prove himself.

Why have you taken such a personal interest in the competition this year?
Paul Bocuse was really one of the main reasons. He reached out to me and wanted me to be a part of it this year. When a chef goes “Do this” you respond “Oui, oui, Chef,” especially [for] someone like Chef Bocuse. The Bocuse d’Or is over twenty years old now, it never really got the attention of the media. And so, with Daniel [Boulud] and Thomas Keller, we’re talking now because of that. Gavin Kaysen, who’s a wonderful chef and who competed last time, didn’t get the recognition and attention because he didn’t have the awareness of the media.

There’s a lot of media attention in general for chefs these days, with Top Chef and the Food Network and so forth. Is the Bocuse d’Or something you hope will encourage others to enter the business?
I don’t think it’s about having more people enter the business. I think it’s just about bringing a a stronger foundation for this team, for their chance to win. We really want to have a stronger presence in Bocuse D’Or, to be taken seriously by the world.

Hollingsworth and his commis will train in Yountville. What’s the training center like? I’m envisioning a monastic cell with a giant kitchen.
It used to be my father’s house. And he passed away last April, and I decided to do a research and development kitchen there for The French Laundry. And then I got involved in Bocuse D’Or and it just seemed to be the natural evolution to actually build a kitchen there for Bocuse D’Or. So they’ll have the same equipment, the same footprint [as] the one they’re actually working in when they get to Lyon.

What does the training consist of?
It’s a lot of repetition of technique, perfecting their technique, perfecting their timing, because they only have five hours to prepare this food from beginning to end.

Will you have any role in the training?
Not really. It’s easy to help them prep things, or help them perfect a technique, or give them advice or direction, but really it has to be something that resonates with them personally, so they can feel like it is their dish and in a way that represents them and not necessarily the restaurant they come from.