Chef Thomas Keller spoke at the Stanford Graduate School of Business last week, and Stanford has posted the video online. Adressing the business school students, Keller talks about his journey to becoming one of the country's most successful chefs. "My life has been very interesting," he tells them as he discusses his early career, overcoming setbacks, and his decisions to expand.
Keller begins with discussing the "devastating" experience of closing his New York City restaurant Rakel in the late '80s. He says the hardest part of closing was "realizing that your ultimate dream, your ultimate goal, was so close, was in many ways in your grasp, could just disappear." He cites following his dream of doing fine dining as the reason why he left New York City after the restaurant closed.
Keller spends a significant portion of the talk discussing expansion. He explains his decision to expand beyond The French Laundry was actually about "mak[ing] The French Laundry better." He says he opened his second restaurant, Bouchon, because "we needed a place to eat after work." Bouchon Bakery opened because it was an opportunity to have the "huge population of artisan bakers" in Napa provide custom-enough breads for French Laundry.
Keller argues that "it's so wrong" for the media to fret about or accuse chefs of "spreading themselves too thin" and claims he and his restaurants are "stronger than ever." The thoughtful talk winds its way through how Keller recruits and trains, Keller's days as a dishwasher, instilling a sense of ownership in his employees, and his frustration with the phrase "farm to table." Go, watch.
Video: Chef Thomas Keller: Bouncing Back from Setbacks