Thomas Keller Goes Gluten Free

January 2, 2012

Well, not really. Bouchon will still be Bouchon and the so-called Macaroni and Cheese (butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster and mascarpone-enriched orzo) will still be Macaroni and Cheese. That said, America’s culinary treasure is a supporter of gluten-free alternatives, especially those put forth by French Laundry’s very own Lena Kwak. In partnership with Keller, Kwak launched C4C (Cup for Cup), a gluten-free flour that you’re not supposed to notice the next time you bite into a brioche.

The last time I saw Thomas Keller was at Per Se last spring. Tall, soft-spoken, and only slightly intimidating, Keller had just been named a chevalier by the French Legion of Honor (the only other American chefs to receive this honor are Alice Waters and Julia Child). He gave my wife and I a tour of the Per Se kitchen—spotless floors, shining utensils arranged equidistantly, a table-clothed four-top to visualize how the dishes will appear to the guest, a flat screen showing the kitchen of French Laundry on the West Coast. Keller said the television helped bring “oneness” to the two kitchens, which is true. Also, Keller can see you thousands of miles away, much like the eye of Sauron. When we glimpsed the veal stocks simmering, I asked him if it’s true his washers scrub the outside bottoms of the pots, so even the undersides remain gleaming. Yes, it’s true, he confirmed, adding, “we also clean the insides of the pots.” There’s a breezeway separating the kitchen from the dining room, which, according to the chef, gives the servers a moment to adjust themselves mentally, to get into the proper mindset before serving the guests. And when I asked him when he plans to open a place in the District, Keller was coy, only saying that “opening a place is easy; having it succeed isn’t.”

The dinner itself consisted of a staggering 22 courses. At the outset, Keller told us to let the servers know if at any time we wanted to stop. “Seriously, if all you want is a bowl of cornflakes, I will go down and get you a bowl of cornflakes,” he assured us. To which I told him no. Even if it pained me overnight, I couldn’t live the rest of my life wondering what I’d miss—possibly the ratatouille he designed for Ratatouille? (The actual meal is a story for another time.)

When C4C was launched, I asked Keller via email a little about this latest venture.

VM: So how did you become involved with gluten-free flour?

TK: Corey Lee was Chef de Cuisine of The French Laundry at the time, and Lena was the research and development chef. He asked Lena for a gluten-free cornet. She made the flour to do so and we found it to be a great alternative to many items on the menu. Lena approached me about offering this as a product for home cooks and I agreed to support her. This has really been her project from the beginning. It has been fulfilling to watch her achieve her goals.

VM: I asked this before and I’ll ask this again: When are you opening a place in D.C.?

TK: I would love to. But for now, Bouchon Bakery does ship.

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