Thomas Keller, Chef
My mother was a restaurateur and I worked for her, starting as a dishwasher when I was 12 or 13. I loved washing dishes. It taught me discipline in the kitchen. In 45 seconds, you realize whether you’re successful or not. And if you’re unsuccessful, you have to figure out in a hurry how to be successful again. You have to organize yourself and the dishes around you so there isn’t chaos. You have to be efficient with space, time, and movement. It taught me how to perfect what I was doing through repetition, which is what cooking is all about. When a young cook comes to me today and says, “OK, I’m bored with this task and ready to do something else,” I’m like, “What else is there? This is cooking.”
I really embraced cooking when I was working at the Palm Beach Yacht Club under my mother and my brother. That’s where I began the process of perfecting my hollandaise sauce, which took two years. You do it every day and you start to learn what works — the temperature of the eggs, the temperature of the butter, the temperature of the environment. But early on, cooking for me was still a physical thing. I was on the line with six other guys doing 300 dinners a night. For someone who’s 21 years old, that adrenaline is amazing.
But then Roland Henin at the Dunes Club in Rhode Island taught me that cooking’s not about me and my adrenaline. It’s about the fact that we’re nurturing people. He made me the staff cook. Who wants to cook for the staff? You want to be on the line with the big guys, cooking for the guests and working with the truffles and the foie gras. Roland convinced me it was a job that had credibility, integrity, and honor. That’s when I realized there’s an emotional connection between us and the people we’re feeding.