What is the chef's food philosophy at Per Se?

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Chef Thomas Keller, the owner of New York’s Per Se, became one of the most celebrated chefs in the country after he opened The French Laundry in Napa Valley, a restaurant where he offered tiny courses of food using the best seasonal ingredients and applying French techniques to even the most basic of American comfort foods. His famous macaroni and cheese, for example, was both familiar and revolutionary at the time. At Keller’s mothership, The French Laundry, the chefs pick ingredients from the restaurant’s three-acre garden across the street. They’re obviously not growing a garden behind Columbus Circle in New York, but it’s clear that the best ingredients possible are obsessively sourced. The Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant has been known to bring out four different kinds of salt, for example. Thankfully, Per Se mixes in equal parts of whimsy; the signature coffee and doughnuts first served at The French Laundry is something diners have come to expect.

A tasting at Per Se involves multiple mini-courses — we’ve seen the menu range from nine to 12 dishes — some of which involve just a bite or two of explosive flavor. The idea behind the small bites is that traditional three-course menus with larger dishes give you food fatigue from eating, but nine small nibbles will leave you wanting more. The menu changes daily, but a recent summer menu had foie gras with sweet tea gelée and pickled watermelon rind, a butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster with grilled farm peaches and a fricassée of farm-fresh Peking duck with creamed corn and wilted spinach.

Whether you’re vegetarian or not, we highly recommend the New York restaurant's tasting of vegetables, as it beautifully showcases Keller’s ability to use seasonal produce to create elegant, complex masterpieces. This might include a “simple” fried green tomato with ricotta and smoked onion purée. Even hard-core carnivores have been won over by the tasting of vegetables. The menu isn’t totally meat-free, although it can be made to be upon request.

Keller also sees a great meal as a journey that takes you to places both familiar and new — a philosophy the chefs exercise in the nine-course tasting menus at Per Se.

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