When did we first shake hands?
In 2009. I was in Napa doing a stage at the French Laundry, and the day before I had lunch at Bouchon. I went up to introduce myself. The French Laundry is like Harvard, you know: You go there because of the atmosphere and the culture created there over the years. To go there was truly amazing–to see the culture, to see the connection between the chef and the restaurant. That was inspiring to me, as it was for those who work there and for those who go there just to eat. It's a magical place.
We didn't rehearse that.
I saw a restaurant that to me–I've been very fortunate to travel and dine all over the world–was unique. You have your own voice. We–and I'm speaking for colleagues and professional chefs around the country–we look at you as the Paul Bocuse of the U.S.
One of things that I love about this profession, you know, is there are so many of us, and whether we've met or not, we have a real connection through what we do, or dedication for what we do. You really embrace that as well.
Addison is that perfect example of what Michelin says: Worth a detour. It's extraordinary. If you were in New York or Chicago or San Francisco, William, your name would be much more recognizable. Your food is of a level that is truly world class. The thing I love about it most is, as a cuisine, there's an emotional connection to it. It has reference points to it. It does exploit some of the modern techniques, as we all do, but at the heart of food, you have to connect to it. It's about connecting to one's soul, making people feel happy about eating your food, not challenging them.
A perfect example is last time I had the crispy bass. I eat at a lot of places, but not a lot of times do I remember what I've eaten. With this, the skin was uniform; each morsel was as crispy as the next: the aroma, the flavor, the color. The gougère you serve to start off–with that beautiful cream with reduction of sherry–or the little side dish of mushrooms you serve with your beef. Each course is very, very thoughtful, extremely well executed, and the flavors are intense and focused.
We both have a huge reference point in Fernand Point. There's a quote from Ma Gastromie that describes what I've always tried to do on a daily basis: Refine simplicity. Simplicity is the hardest thing to do–to keep yourself from adding two more things and to get your young chefs to understand: If you have a bowl of perfect chanterelles, you don't need anything else.
Your kitchen is organized, clean, well designed, functional. The staff has great respect for themselves, great respect for the food. For me that resonates: I want to be in this kitchen working. It exemplifies what we as leaders need to do.
You were a rock star before all chefs were rock stars. That's another thing that draws us together. The chefs I admired growing up, you admired growing up, like Jean-Louis Palladin. This is passing it on.
There will always be icons in our profession. You think of Escoffier, Fernand Point, Chapel, Bocuse, Palladin. In this profession, we have so much depth and so much richness it makes you really proud to be a chef, to be a cook. We can finally see some of the rewards of that in our country in the last 30 years. We have come so far from where we were 30 years ago.
And we're constantly trying to find better ways. We'll go in tomorrow and do a little better than today; very seldom are there quantum leaps. For us, it's chipping away. We continue to support our fishermen, farmers, foragers, gardeners; those are the most important individuals in our equation. Talking about recipes is irrelevant. Poaching a lobster is easy. Roasting a lamb is easy. Braising carrots is easy. Doing it all together to make a composed dish night after night, week after week, year after year–that's the challenge.
I've always had the mind-set that it's already all been done before.
We've just got to do it better. Each generation has to be greater than the previous one. If not, we haven't done our job. Each generation has to pass on to the next. In 10 to 15 years, you will be in my position. I'm in that first generation of American chefs who gained notoriety around the world; you're in the next, and you'll be better than the previous generation.