People wait months for a reservation at Yountville's French Laundry. They may have to wait even longer at Per Se, New York City's most anticipated opening in years, in the new Time Warner Center. Thomas Keller's food gets the headlines, but his restaurants' appeal has a lot to do with his partner, Laura Cunningham. The behind-the-scenes force who creates what many call "the perfect dining environment," Cunningham oversees everything from design details to service to wines. Here, she tells the secrets of the restaurants' success and describes the dinner parties she and Keller give together.
How does your entertaining style differ from Thomas's? I don't think I've ever seen Thomas entertain by himself. I focus more on the energy of the room, including the table, timing and social interaction; he concentrates on the food, of course.
Who are your favorite florists? I love Jeff Leatham, the florist at the Four Seasons George V Hotel in Paris. His designs are brilliant, original displays that somehow heighten the color. He also makes great use of glass containers. Christian Tortu, also in Paris, does wonderful things with fruit and flowers. San Francisco has a great florist, Fioridella, on Polk Street. In New York City, we're using Lotus and its designer, Luis Collazo, for Per Se's arrangements. Our florist at the French Laundry is Kathy Hoffman, the daughter of the original owners. She's done the restaurant's flowers since she was 24 and picked them all from the garden; now she's 49 and gets them from the market.