The French Laundry
A friend came by for dinner last night and we eventually started talking about his experience visiting The French Laundry, the iconic Yountville Thomas Keller restaurant. This morning, I opened up my browser and was greeted by a page from the The French Laundry website, left over from the evening:
"Every day we create two unique nine-course tasting menus – chef’s tasting and a tasting of vegetables – each a series of smaller, focused dishes. No single ingredient is ever repeated throughout the meal. What we want you to experience is that sense of surprise when you taste something so new, so exciting, so comforting, so delicious, you think, “Wow” – and then it’s gone. We want the peak of sensation on the palate to be all that you feel. So we serve a series of small courses meant to excite your mind, satisfy your appetite and pique your curiosity. We want you to say, “I wish I had just one more bite of that.” And then the next plate arrives and the same thing happens, but in a different way, a whole new flavor and feel and emotion."
I found that description and mission to be incredibly compelling, not just as a (hopefully!) future customer, but for the business itself. The experience that French Laundry seeks to build for its customers is beyond excellence – it seeks to provide emotional stimulation in its work. Surprise. Curiosity. Longing.
If Thomas Keller’s more accessible restaurants (Bouchon, Ad Hoc) are any indication, I’m positive the dishes at French Laundry are unreal. But the craftspeople at French Laundry are really pursuing a mission more substantial and lasting than their employment and the quality of food that they prepare. The creations are just vessels for a deeper experience. And in that way, the institution becomes more meaningful than just the food that is plated.
I think we all want the work we pursue in life to be that meaningful. We want the pursuit to be more profound.