Chef Thomas Keller reminisces about being a young chef in New York. 

By Kate Krader
Updated May 23, 2017

At Food & Wine we’re not supposed to play favorites, but I do: The July Best New Chefs issue is the one I look forward to most. This year the July issue is even better because we’re highlighting not only those fantastically talented men and women: We also get to pay tribute to the man who’s inspired more BNCs than anyone in history, Thomas Keller. (He’s celebrating the 20th anniversary of his legendary restaurant, the French Laundry, whoopee!)

Thomas might be busy inspiring future star chefs, but still, he also likes to honor ones from the past. In the current issue of his extraordinary magazine Finesse, he shouts out eight legends like Jacques Pépin, André Soltner and Jean-Jacques Rachou. It’s worth looking at the magazine just to see the cover—an amazing black-and-white photograph of these eight greatest chefs putting on their aprons.

Also amazing in this Finesse issue: Thomas talks about being a young chef in New York City. He would press his nose to the glass of the restaurants where these chefs worked—La Côte Basque, Lutèce, Le Cygne.

It’s a remarkable image to conjure: Thomas Keller with his nose pressed against a restaurant window. The chef reminisced about that time; his thoughts are incredible, and here they are:

“When I first moved to New York, it was the city most densely populated with great restaurants in this country. Back then, we didn’t have Internet. If you wanted to get the sense of a place, you had to find the menu. Which meant you had to go to the restaurant, because everyone had the menu posted outside. I would stand outside for 30 minutes and make notes about the dishes, the compositions, what techniques these chefs were using. You’d get the address of a place like Lutèce, La Côte Basque or Le Périgord, and you’d walk up a street and turn the corner and you’d see the restaurant. And you’d have the greatest sense of discovery: I found the front door of Lutèce! And you’d hope that a delivery would come, and you’d see where the fish came from. Or that maybe the chef would stick his head out the door to see the delivery. It was enlightening, inspirational, aspirational, all those things at once.”

To read more about the Best Great Chefs, you can download an issue of Finesse here: