If I were going to cast a movie set in an elegant French restaurant I'd pound my desktop and bellow to my minions: "Get me Hubert Keller!"
And if said minions had been to San Francisco's Fleur de Lys, met the tall and handsome Keller and his stylish wife, Chantal, and enjoyed the food in the restaurant's gorgeous fabric-draped dining room, they'd immediately reply: "Brilliant, C.E.! Brilliant!"
And they'd even mean it.
Trained by culinary giants such as Paul Bocuse and Paul Haeberlin and then selected by Roger Verge to run the kitchen at Moulin du Mougins, Heller left France to become executive chef at Verge's Cuisine du Soleil in Brasil. After two years, Verge sent him to San Francisco to run Sutter 500. Deciding to stay in California, Heller became co-owner and executive-chef of Fleur de Lys in 1986.
Recently he has opened restaurants in Las Vegas and St. Louis, but Fleur de Lys in San Francisco will always seem, to me, like the jewel in the crown. It was the first luxury restaurant I visited after moving to California -- and I still love it after all these years.
I was sipping a delicious little cup of his white gazpacho with vanilla oil (pictured and praised here by Pim) when I asked Chef Keller if he'd answer questions for my blog.
1. What is the biggest challenge in running a restaurant as elegant and beloved as Fleur de Lys?
Over the last 20 years the dining public has changed. Twenty years ago there was a different expectation than that of the diners today. To find the balance between classic and fresh in order to satisfy both expectations not only has been a challenge but it's also been part of the excitement of the business which we've embraced as our life.
2. I know you were in Alsace earlier this year to celebrate your mother's 80th birthday. What did you cook for her while you were there?
Cooking for my mom is such a challenge that I prefer to take her out to friends' restaurants. Of course the most important thing was to be with her to celebrate her 80th, with the entire family. She was so, so happy.
[Chantal Keller added: "Even though HK is a chef, his mom will always tell him how to do things in the kitchen...really funny when you watch them."]
3. What is the most important thing you learned from Roger Verge about running a kitchen?
From Roger Verge I discovered a very colorful and happy cuisine, but also how to manage a 3-stars Michelin kitchen and to turn out a great food cost.
4. Your PBS series, "Secrets of a Chef," was delightful. When will we see new episodes?
We just finished filming at Jeriko Winery; now we have to do Las Vegas and St Louis. We double from 13 to 26 episodes. The new episodes will air in the fall, 2008.
Margin Note: Keller's web site has an extensive collection of recipes from earlier episodes of "Secrets of a Chef."