For many years now I’ve traveled from Norfolk, Virginia to the Napa Valley in California. I stay in a little town called Yountville. It has some of the best restaurants you can imagine, three of which are owned by legendary chef Thomas Keller. I had been to two, Bouchon and Ad Hoc, but never had been to The French Laundry. Friends surprised me with a fantastic gift and had dinner reservations set up on my birthday. Excitement and a little apprehension set in. The French Laundry only offers a tasting menu: you choose either the Chef’s Tasting or the Tasting of Vegetables, each with 11 courses.
I went with the Chef's menu and Mark with the Tasting of Vegetables. Course after course came out. I had already decided I would try everything they put in front of me. As someone who has a lot of issues with the texture of food, it was a brave step. I am not a tapioca person, but I ate it happily with poached oysters and caviar. Each course was outstanding, from perfectly cooked trout to the best piece of bread I have ever tasted, made with tomato water and served with burrata. The dessert course was five desserts and then chocolates.
My vision was a place that would have been stuffy and formal, but I was very wrong. It was a very comfortable atmosphere in a very intimate setting. I thought they might be offended with me taking out my camera and photographing the artful food. I was mistaken; they were happy to let me do it.
The dinner lasted about 3 hours, and as the last people there we had a tour of the kitchen. As someone who photographs many commercial spaces, to see Thomas Keller's kitchen was a dream come true. It was so clean and organized. On the wall in the kitchen is a quote from Chef Keller, “When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.”
As a food photographer, this was truly a bucket list moment. Whether I get to go there again is an unknown, but it is an evening I will never forget.
Any questions about the courses, please leave me a message, and I'll be happy to explain anything to you.
Glenn Bashaw is a food photographer is located in Norfolk, Virginia and available for travel.