I think that it's safe to say that The French Laundry Cookbook changed the way modern cookbooks are written. Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with Thomas Keller it raised the bar to a new standard, where the recipes accurately reflected both the chef and his restaurant. It wasn't simplified or dumbed down, it included stories about the place and the purveyors, and it painted a picture of exactly what professional cooking could be if you and your staff were willing to work hard enough. Thomas Keller is perhaps the most venerated American chef in our time, his name is practically synonymous with the idea of finesse, which is appropriate since it is the word that stands as both inspiration and motto in his kitchens. The attention to detail in the recipes is amazing. The French Laundry Cookbook gives you the ability to recreate his dishes if you are willing to follow them to the letter.
Any serious professional cook or chef has this book on their shelves. It has become the gold standard in such a way that no other book out there even comes close. Not even the many other excellent books written by Thomas Keller himself. It is equally at home in professional kitchens and in the homes of epicures and enthusiastic home cooks. It has reached that rarefied status of appealing to people across the board and that is because it is a book of substance and beauty. It's the kind of book we all strive to write because as you flip through the pages you are inspired and educated at the same time. In spite of being published in 1999, the dishes could easily appear on restaurant tables today. Keller's approach to cooking, to the entire dining experience, will never go out of style because he understands that every detail matters all the way down the line from the purveyor who brings his ingredients to the final farewell as guests walk out the door. A lot of people talk the talk. Here is someone who teaches people how to make it a reality. This book chronicles his food and philosophy for everyone who hasn't had the pleasure of visiting his restaurants although I guarantee that once you own the book you will be sure to seek out the experience.
We have not had the privilege of working in any of his kitchens but we have had the pleasure of experiencing some of the best meals in our lives in his restaurants. I think that our favorite meal of all time was at Per Se, in New York City. It was February 12, 2006. Jonathan Benno was the Chef de Cuisine. A blizzard blanketed New York City in snow the day before. As we sat at a window overlooking cross country skiers in Central Park we enjoyed an epic 16-course dual tasting menu (not including the amuse bouche or mignardises.) We have that menu framed in our dining room and we refer to it as the benchmark for fine dining in our minds. It was not the only meal we enjoyed at Per Se, Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery or The French Laundry, but it is the one that stands out in our minds as the very best. Sometimes the stars align in such a way that you know that you must revel in the moment because you may never experience anything quite like it again. That meal was one of those moments and I am guessing that more people have experienced those moments at Thomas Keller's restaurants than at any other.
In honor of the the upcoming New Year we are excited to be giving away a signed(!) copy of The French Laundry Cookbook donated from an anonymous donor. This is the time of year to reflect upon the good things that have happened in the past twelve months and plan the things you want to accomplish in the year ahead. To enter to win the book please leave a comment below telling us what special places are on your wish list for the coming year. It can be anywhere from a fine dining mecca to your grandmother's table to Nick's Nest, we just want to know what places will inspire you in the year to come. One entry per person and please be sure there is an email address attached to your comment so that we can contact you if you win. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Please be patient, unless you receive an error message they will appear once we have a chance to review them. The winner will be randomly chosen on Friday, December 30, 2010 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for all your great comments. Our winner, Kurt Tarpley, has been notified via email.