As a reaction to a bit of bad press from two of New York City’s grown-up critics, Thomas Keller decided to whip up a kids’ menu at his austere fine-dining institution, Per Se. It’s an unusual gimmick for a three-star restaurant where dinner costs $325 before wine. But this is not the first time a heavy-hitting chef has participated in a kid-focused stunt to generate some good buzz — as you may recall, Keller’s BFF Daniel Boulud served a bunch of children at Daniel following its demotion from four stars to three stars in the New York Times, and a video of this meal turned into an immediate viral hit.
During the special kid-friendly Sunday lunch service at Per Se, which occurred last fall, the little ones ate for free while their adult companions paid $250 for the same seven-course meal. Here are a few noteworthy details about this afternoon at Per Se, culled from a New Yorker report published this week:
• “Fun” was the rigidly enforced word of the day. The chef/restaurateur told his staff: “Let’s have fun with it.” A manager told the kitchen crew: “We all know who the V.I.P.s are. The children, O.K.? Please, please, make sure we have fun today. It’s all about fun. Just do it with a smile on your face.” In the kitchen, one chef shouted to the rest: “Kids first all day long, guys!”
• In addition to Keller classics like gougères and salmon cornets, the menu that day included a parsley shoot Caesar salad, chicken consommé with dumplings, corn ravioli, and a “P B & J” dish made with foie gras, shaved peanut brittle, and jam. To drink, the kids were offered a “blueberry smash” with a bendy straw.
• Keller said he was inspired by a “magical” kids’ meal in the Pool Room of the Four Seasons, which he took his 12-year-old niece to years ago. His second inspiration: “Charlie Trotter would invite underprivileged children to eat at his restaurant, to give them aspirations, goals.”
• The kids mostly enjoyed their meals. After trying the consommé, a 9-year-old girl told her table: “I’m sorry, this is the most delicious thing I’ve ever had.” Later in the meal, the kid also observed: “They serve you the biggest plates and the tiniest portions of food.”
• The kids were served Wonka-style candy bars for dessert, one of which had a golden ticket redeemable for dinner for four at Per Se. This is actually the second time that Keller has played around with a Willy Wonka theme. The chef tells the New Yorker: “For the twentieth anniversary of French Laundry, we did five golden tickets and I dressed up like Willy Wonka. I don’t usually do things like that, but it was fun.”
The Per Se squad did not acquire booster seats for the event, but it turns out they didn’t really need them. Elsewhere in the Kellerverse, the chef is still basking in the afterglow of the American team’s big win at the Bocuse d’Or culinary competition, and he just put the French Laundry’s new $10 million kitchen into service.
• Per Se’s Seven-Course Kids Menu [New Yorker]
• Kids Eat Free at Thomas Keller’s Per Se for One Intense Day This Fall [ENY]